Prospect finds new home after tragedy
A teary-eyed Chi Dungee was in the process of driving her daughter Chelsea to school when she decided to pull over on the side of a dirt road in Okmulgee, Okla.
It was the morning of Nov. 18, 2011, and Chi (pronounced Shy) had just received tragic news. Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant coach Miranda Serna had died the previous night in a plane crash that also claimed the lives of the two pilots.
Chi didn't want to upset her daughter before school but she also didn't want Chelsea -- who had recently committed to play for Budke, Serna and the Cowgirls -- to hear the news from anyone else.
So she stopped the car, and mother and daughter talked, wept and shared their feelings -- right there on the side of the road -- for nearly two hours.
"It hurt me real bad," said Dungee, who was a 14-year-old eighth-grader at the time. "I was very upset because I had gotten to know them, and I really liked them as people."
Dungee, a straight-A student and a member of the National Honor Society, didn't go to school that day.
Jim Littell, an OSU assistant at the time and now the head coach, quickly contacted Dungee and told her that the Cowgirls' scholarship offer still stood.
But Dungee, the only child of a divorced couple, had formed a bond with Serna, who had been to some of her middle school games, and to Budke, a man she considered a true "players' coach."
"I had wanted to play for them more than I had wanted to play for the school," Dungee said.
After talking it over with her family, Dungee decided to re-open her recruitment and let a disappointed Littell know about their decision.
Dungee, now 16, is a 5-foot-11 sophomore shooting guard for Preston (Okla.). She was part of the USA U16 team that won a FIBA Americas gold medal this past summer in Mexico.
Third-year Preston coach Jeff Weedn, who once coached the Oklahoma Class 3A Boys' Player of the Year, said Dungee is the best talent he has ever directed and thinks she's the best player in Preston girls' history.
Which explains what happened after Dungee re-opened her recruitment.
"It was like the floodgates opened," Chi said. "Kansas got involved. Vanderbilt and Arkansas offered ..."
But Dungee wanted to stay close to home. She, her mom and her stepfather live on 13 acres in rural Okmulgee, and one of her favorite things to do is ride her four-wheeler.
Her home is roughly halfway between the OSU campus in Stillwater and Oklahoma's headquarters in Norman.
Once OU coach Sherri Coale started recruiting her, the connection was immediate.
"[Coale] recruits differently than any other coach we have experienced," Chi said. "She recruits more the person than the player. Of course, they have to be decent players. But if they have potential, [Coale] knows what to do."
For Dungee, 2013 has been a huge year.
She committed to Oklahoma in February, led Preston to the state tournament in March, was a reserve on Team USA when it won gold in June and helped Cy-Fair win its first Nike Nationals AAU championship in July.
The high school success was an added bonus. Dungee, who went to Beggs (Okla.) in eighth grade, was required to sit out for 365 days, according to Oklahoma rules, after transferring to Preston.
Weedn, who had resigned himself to not having his best player available for her entire freshman season, was in the second quarter of a game against Okemah (Okla.) in February when he got a surprising visit from his boss.
"My superintendent told me the news had just come in, and Chelsea was eligible," Weedn said. "I wanted to put a uniform on her right away."
Weedn resisted the urge and got her into the starting lineup the next game. Including playoffs, Dungee's season lasted nine games, but she made a big impact, averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds.
In fact, in her first game, against Canadian (Okla.), Dungee scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just 12 minutes.
Best yet to come?
Dungee, who also plays softball and runs sprints in track, helped Preston reach the Class 2A state basketball quarterfinals before losing to Northeast Academy (Oklahoma City), 53-34.
That was hardly an embarrassment, however. Top-ranked Northeast (31-0) went on to win state with a veteran roster that included six seniors in an eight-player rotation. Two of the guards were Oklahoma recruits: T'ona Edwards, who is at Norman now, and LaNesia Williams, who is set to arrive in 2014.
Individually, Dungee did fairly well against her future teammates, leading Preston in points (8) and rebounds (9).
Weedn believes Preston (21-11) would have had a much better record had Dungee been eligible all season. A better record would have improved Preston's seeding, helping it avoid Northeast until a later round.
This season should be different. Dungee is eligible from the start, and Preston, which started four freshmen last year, is more experienced.
The key, of course, will be Dungee and her overall game.
"She's a really good defender," Weedn said. "She takes pride in locking people down, and she can score the ball as well. She's also unselfish and a great leader."
Her mother added, "Chelsea is a big fish in a small pond. She can't wait to get to Norman. She loves the faster pace."