By Arie Graham
The Dallas Wings had just landed in Los Angeles when Satou Sabally received a call from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert to inform her that she had been named a starter for the 2023 WNBA All-Star game.
But while Sabally was really excited to receive the nod, she is intentionally putting off thoughts about July 16’s showcase of the WNBA’s best. There are still four games before she heads to Las Vegas.
“I’m like ‘Wow, I made it,’ but my head was also so cool, just different things though,” Sabally said. “That is something I still look forward to but I feel like the weekend is also not there yet. So I’ve been telling everyone around me like, ‘Don’t talk to me about all-star. I am happy about it, but we’ve still got some games to finish out.’”
Since being drafted second overall in 2020, one spot behind her Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu, her career has been plagued with injuries, only playing in 33 of a possible maximum of 52 games during her first two seasons.
Combine that with Dallas’ rotating door of coaches — current head coach Latricia Trammell is the third Sabally’s played for in four seasons — and there was not a lot of opportunity to build chemistry with the team on the court.
Instead of playing for another team overseas, Sabally spent the majority of the offseason resting and rehabbing from her nagging injuries. She attributes her performance this season to the work she had put in to and the changes she has had to make to stay healthy.
“I worked hard, like really hard in the off-season and once you do that, once you put the work in you can trust yourself and your abilities,” Sabally said. “And I’m still the second pick, so I know I can play basketball.”
Now, she’s averaging a double-double every night at 19.1 points and 10.4 rebounds a game. Her performance so far has come to no surprise to her new head coach in Trammell and that even when she was an assistant coach with Los Angeles that she knew what Sabally was capable of.
“What I love about it is that she took some time off prior to the season,” Trammell said. “She hasn’t done that before, took a reset mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, rehabbed [and] made sure her body felt great where she could compete at a high level. And she’s been doing
Sabally put on a clinic against the Washington Mystics on Sunday with a career performance, putting up 27 points and grabbing 15 boards. Seven-year veteran and current Mystic Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said postgame that Sabally’s activity and versatility makes her a massive challenge for opponents.
“You put a post on her she can go by, put a guard on her she’s big enough to post them and her versatility is what makes her special,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “And then she’s just supper active but always the boards, o-boards [and] defensive rebounding as well.”
There is obviously a health caveat for Sabally (like with any player), but 2023 is showing that there is no ceiling for the German if she can play night-in, night-out. Her teammate and second-leading scorer in the WNBA Arike Ogunbowale said that, by the time Sabally’s career is over, she can be one of the best forward to ever play in the league.
“I mean obviously the last couple of years she hasn’t really been too healthy, but she’s always been capable of this,” Ogunbowale said. “So she’s just healthy and showing you know how good she is. She’s definitely a huge piece of the puzzle and what we’re trying to bring to Dallas.”
Sabally, Ogunbowale and three-time WNBA Champion Natasha Howard have become the core of this group. Trammell said that having Sabally as a building block for the future is crucial.
“You know I was thinking about this last night watching [Las Vegas Aces] and even Washington for that matter. Continuity matters,” Trammell said. “And to have a group of individuals that your connected with on the court as well as off the court that you’ve been in the trenches with for an extended period of time. I definitely think it matters so I hope that we can keep this core group together.”
The Wings had looked out of sorts after losing five of six in a two-week stretch, including. dropping both games in Los Angeles. Now, after the wins at Phoenix and over Washington this week, the Wings sit at 8-8 and all alone in fifth place in the WNBA.
But Dallas will get a true test of its potential this week when they play the defending champion Las Vegas Aces in a home-and-home back-to-back, first in Las Vegas on July 5 before a return matchup in Arlington on July 7.