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Satou Sabally: WNBA Flying Forward

January 21, 2021
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The Dallas Wings’ Satou Sabally is one of the most exciting, versatile young players in the WNBA. The second pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, Satou has been described as a “unicorn.” Since her days playing college ball at University of Oregon, she’s been able to defend multiple positions. Plus, score both on-ball and off, pass, rebound, and shoot — all at the size of a WNBA center (6’4″).

Off the court, Satou is just as versatile: thriving as an academic, an advocate, and a natural leader. Basketball is but one part of the multifaceted young woman that Satou Sabally is; she’s equally passionate about social justice causes. Satou has committed herself to using her platform as a professional athlete to fight racism in the United States. As well as back home in Europe and around the world.

While injury shortened her rookie campaign, the Gambian-German forward showed her star potential numerous times. Including five doubles-doubles, and two double-doubles where she scored 20 or more points. While there are clearly areas Satou needs to work on, it’s exciting to dream of what her and fellow young star Arike Ogunbowale can accomplish together, as both continue to develop. 

But Satou Sabally being a rising star is nothing new. Buzz has percolated around Satou since her Freshman year at Oregon. Where she quickly became an asset to the squad built around fellow 2020 rookie Sabrina Ionescu. There, Satou became a star in her own right. Delivering an accolade-filled 2019-20 junior season. That featured a stand-out performance against WNBA talent when Oregon faced off against Team USA in an exhibition game. 

But how did Satou Sabally grow into such a versatile player? Today, we’ll look at Satou Sabally’s basketball evolution, beginning with her childhood in Gambia and Berlin. Before revealing how she made her way to Oregon. And sharing how she brought to life her dual passions for justice and hoops. Finally, we’ll explore how she fulfilled her dreams of playing professional basketball in the WNBA and Europe. Plus, examine her stats, strengths, and opportunities along the way.

Satou Sabally’s basketball evolution

Satou Sabally’s parents & siblings

Born on April 25th, 1998 in New York City, Isatou “Satou” Sabally is one of seven children. Her father, Jerreh, is from Gambia, a small country in West Africa. And her mother, Heike, is from Germany. Satou is named after her father’s sister, Isatou, in the Gambian tradition. The name Isatou, according to Sabally, is derived from a Gambian name for Aisha, a wife of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. And roughly translates to “beloved daughter”.

When Satou was two years old, her family left New York, relocating to her father’s home country of Gambia. In Gambia, the Sabally’s lived communally with Jerreh’s extended family, as well as several other families, on a compound. Though her family did not have much money, Sabally has fond memories of her childhood in West Africa. Recollecting idyllic scenes of community, play, and friendship:

“My earliest memories were being at our family compound and playing with all my girlfriends around there,” Satou told the Undefeated, “You can go through the streets to the beach. But we always took the routes through the fields.” What stands out most in Satou’s memory of her childhood, however, is the sense of mutual care: “In Gambia,” Satou recounted to Sports Illustrated, “People have an interest in you and they really care about one another, which is not really in Western culture.”

As Satou entered first grade, the Saballys left Gambia. Relocating to her mother’s native Germany in pursuit of a better education for the children. The family settled in Berlin, a huge change of pace from Satou’s Gambian childhood. City life in a Western nation was difficult for Satou and her siblings to adjust to. As they found it much more fast-paced, isolated, and individualistic than what they had grown up with.

In Berlin, Satou also began to realize that she was, in the words of Sports Illustrated’s Erica Ayala, “noticeably different, notably ‘other’” in the eyes of the white German children around her. Satou, during this time, recognized that others treated her differently because of the color of her skin. For example, when they asked Satou where she was from. She knew they weren’t asking for her hometown. But rather, asking her to explain her Blackness. Luckily, Satou was able to find refuge within her large family. Which provided an echo of the community of Gambia, including sharing traditional West African cooking with her parents and siblings.

Satou’s early basketball awakening

It was in Berlin that Satou Sabally first picked up a basketball. Shooting hoops on the playground with other kids and her younger sister, Nyara. When Satou was 9, she was scouted for the first time. She was noticed for her height by a woman who coached youth basketball. Satou began practicing with that coach and her squad regularly, making her the only girl on the previously all-boys squad. She quickly fell in love with the sport, and by age 14 began dreaming of playing in the WNBA. 

“It was tough. In the beginning I would never get the ball,” she recalled with a laugh. “Later on I carried the team. Shows that even as a little girl, you can always make a difference.”

In 2015, when Satou was 15, she moved away from Berlin. In order to play basketball at the professional level with the club Eisvögel USC in Freisburg, Germany. 500 miles away from her family, Satou again felt isolated. But kept her family close through regular texts and phone calls. Satou did not accept pay while playing in Freisburg. Which allowed her to maintain her eligibility to play college basketball per NCAA rules.

However, playing with Eisvögel USC Freisburg raised Satou’s notoriety across Germany. And led to her being recruited to Team Germany’s Under 20 team. In 2017, the summer before her first year at Oregon, Satou led her squad to win the FIBA U20 Women’s European Basketball Tournament Division B Championship. There, she took home the Tournament MVP with 17 points and 7 rebounds, per Erica Ayala. 

Satou Sabally’s University of Oregon college basketball career

The following fall, recruited at age 19, Satou Sabally began studying and playing at University of Oregon. Where she majored in social sciences, focused on crime, law, and society. Satou had an impact on the court at Oregon immediately. Serving as an excellent complement to Oregon’s star, sophomore Sabrina Ionescu.

In her first game as a starter, Satou dropped 22 points in only 26 minutes. Delivering stunning efficiency, hitting 8 of her 11 shots. Satou started in 29 out of 38 games her freshman season, averaging 10.7 points a game. She hit 46% shooting, and 37% from three. And as a result of her strong freshman campaign took home SEC Freshman of the Year honors

The following summer, back in Europe, Satou once again joined the German under 20 team. This time with their Division A team. At her second U-20 FIBA Tournament, Satou Sabally showcased the strides her game had taken during her freshman season at Oregon. But her team came up just short in the elimination stage of the tournament. Falling to France by only two points. Nonetheless, Satou shone, leading all players in both points and rebounds, and earning a spot on the All-Tournament teaam.

Satou’s college sophomore year

Back in Oregon for her sophomore year, Satou continued to improve. This season, starting all of Oregon’s 38 games. Satou’s sophomore year she took off: averaging nearly 17 points per game. While shooting above 50% from the floor, and above 40% from deep. In addition to showcasing her shooting range, Satou picked up 6.4 rebounds and 2 assists per game. All while defending at a high rate.

Satou was named to the All-PAC 12 team her sophomore season. And was a finalist for the Cheryl Miller award, given to the best small forward in college hoops. Satou’s sophomore season put her on the radar of WNBA scouts all over the nation. And buzz began swirling around the Swiss Army Knife player. As she aided her Ducks on a deep March Madness run to the Final Four. 

Even more impactful than Satou Sabally’s play on the court at Oregon, perhaps, was her leadership off of it: “She kind of stepped into a position where we started to get established,” teammate Sabrina Ionescu told media, “She was kind of able to find her voice a bit quicker, and we ended up relying on her a lot during that season because of how talented she is on the court. And so, I think she was able to just bring players along with her through her work ethic.”

Satou kept up her work ethic over the summer. Working on her game while taking summer classes in order to complete her degree in three years. “Every year she added something new and significant to her game. And continued to get better and better,” said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. 

Satou’s junior college year

Satou’s third, and ultimately final, season at Oregon saw her establish herself as one of the premier young forwards in women’s basketball. And as a top prospect in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

In a season shortened by the Coronavirus pandemic, Satou started 29 games for the Ducks. She averaged a remarkable 16 points and 7 rebounds on 46% shooting. However her previously stellar three-point shooting efficiency dropped off. But Satou did make it to the free-throw line five times per game her final year in the NCAA. Where she converted at 79%.

One of the shining moments of Satou’s junior year came when Oregon hosted Team USA in an exhibition game, in November of 2019. After going down 11 points in the second quarter, Oregon staged one of the most exciting comebacks in recent basketball memory. Propelled by a momentum-shifting three from Satou to close out the first half.

Sabally dropped a scorching 25 points on Team USA. In spite of being guarded by some of the best defenders in the world, including the likes of Nneka Ogwumike and Napheesa Collier. Satou and her Ducks took home the W that day in a 93-86 win. Becoming just the second NCAA squad to beat Team USA in college basketball history.

“I feel like the USA game was just such a spark,” Satou told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game, “After that game, it was just eye-opening that I’m able to play at that level.”

In February of 2020, Satou announced she would eschew her last year of NCAA eligibility in order to enter the WNBA Draft. While Satou had the opportunity to return and be an Oregon star for a year, she decided it was time for her to begin her career as a professional basketball player.

“After this season, I’m going pro. I really want to just fulfill my childhood dream and play in the WNBA and play professionally in Europe,” Satou told Holly Rowe. But dreams weren’t the only motivating factor for Satou, who felt a duty to support her family back in Germany, as well as in Gambia: “I feel like I can finally give back and make their lives a little bit easier, pay their rent for a nicer house, because we were all squished together…Just provide a life for my little brothers where they maybe have more than one pair of shoes for a whole season.”

When the NCAA season was forced to end early in March, the Oregon Ducks had gone 31-2 on the season. And were ranked second in the nation by the Associated Press. “No one would have ever thought that a pandemic or virus would have ended our season,” Satou told the Undefeated, “There will always be a ‘what if’…but I am really confident we would have won. People say other things, but we were playing almost effortlessly beautiful basketball.” 

Satou finished her college career with 1,508 career points, earning her spot as Oregon’s seventh all-time scorer. She averaged 17.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in the final 19 games of her collegiate career.

Explore Satou Sabally’s WNBA basketball career

Satou Sabally was drafted second overall by the Dallas Wings in the 2020 WNBA Draft. Behind only her college teammate, Sabrina Ionescu, who the New York Liberty drafted first overall. Though attending the draft through teleconference in Oregon, Satou made the space her home. She was surrounded by family and friends. While wearing a suit designed by Kutula Africana, a black woman-owned clothing line that draws inspiration from African designs. Kutula also designed three beautiful tapestries, to hang behind Satou as she waited to hear her name called.

Satou Sabally Dallas Wings

Just three months later, Satou was with her new team, the Wings. Quarantining and training in Bradenton, Florida, at IMG Academy, the site of the WNBA bubble, or ‘Wubble’. Sabally made her WNBA debut on July 26th, 2020, against the Atlanta Dream. That day, Satou had a mixed performance. Showcasing her versatility with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists plus two steals. But fouling out during the deciding minutes of the fourth quarter. The Wings ultimately lost the game without Satou on the floor.

In her second WNBA game, Satou had the opportunity to square off against her college teammate, Sabrina Ionescu, and the New York Liberty squad. Before the game, Satou squashed rumors about a rivalry between her and Sabrina, saying: “I know a lot of people are going to want to make a rivalry out of this, but that’s not the case. I’m gonna play for Dallas and she’s gonna play for New York. But we’re gonna play just as we’re playing otherwise: Hard, aggressive, and we’re gonna do our best.” As it turned out, Satou’s team took home the win over Sabrina and the Liberty, despite a dominant showing from Sabrina.

On the heels of her friend Sabrina going off, Satou was charged up for her own breakout. Up against the Indiana Fever, Satou dropped her first double-double. With 23 points and an astonishing 17 rebounds in the Wing’s second win of the season. From there, Satou found more of her stride, grabbing a few more double-doubles as she moved in and out of the Wing’s starting line up.

Satou Sabally’s injury

In mid-August, Satou was sidelined for six games with a back injury. Which unfortunately, effectively took her out of the running for Rookie of the Year in an abbreviated season of only 22 games.

In her second game back from injury in late August, Satou had another 20 point double double, in one of the best games of her rookie season. Satou pulled down 11 rebounds to go with a career high 28 points in a loss against the Las Vegas Aces. While her team didn’t take home the win, Satou had a career night dueling with the league’s eventual MVP, A’ja Wilson. Her performance that night bodes well for Satou’s future ability to keep composure. And push herself to her highest level of play against elite competition.

All in all, the Dallas Wings went 8-14 during the 2020 WNBA season. With Satou playing in 16 of 22 games. Satou averaged 13.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and .9 steals and blocks per game over the season. Her shooting percentages were down from college though. As she averaged 36% from the field and a head-scratching 19.7% from deep — likely a sign of adjusting to professional-level pace and defenses.

Despite her shooting numbers, Satou had a successful season defensively and flashed her potential time and time again. She was rewarded with a selection to the WNBA All-Rookie Team, alongside just four other rookies.

Currently, Satou is fulfilling her dream of playing professionally in Europe with the club Fenerbahçe Öznur Kablo in Turkey. Satou, like many other WNBA players, reported to overseas commitments almost immediately after her WNBA season ended.  Alongside Las Vegas Aces star Kayla McBride, Satou has led Fenerbahçe to an undefeated 15-0 record on 17.3 points and 8 rebounds a game.

Though currently sidelined with an ankle injury, Satou has cemented her spot as one of the best players on one of the best teams in the Turkish Basketball Superleague. Satou continues to develop her legend, and show promise for her future in professional basketball.

The best of Satou Sabally’s go-to moves

Satou has a handful of go-to moves she relies on to deliver for her team. Let’s take a look at what to expect from this growing offensive threat.

1. Lay-ups off the dribble

Satou’s excellent ball-handling, combined with her size, helps her get to the rim to score with ease. Opposing defenders aren’t used to guarding a Forward who can blow by off the dribble like a point guard. Satou is also able to finish through contact at the rim. Allowing her to use these lay-ups as opportunities to get to the free throw-line, where she feasts, shooting 87.2%.

2. The spin

Satou has been utilizing her footwork a bit more overseas with Fenerbahçe. Particularly showing a fondness for spinning off the drive to create space for lay-ups. Driving to the basket, Satou spins away from the bucket, around defenders. Giving her enough space for a quick shot or lay-up. As Satou perfects this and other under-the-basket moves, she’ll become more and more dangerous.

3. Put-backs for days

Even in her rookie season, Satou is already one of the best offensive rebounders in the WNBA. She is adept at turning her teammates’ missed shots into points. Able to corral loose balls, create space for herself, and quickly put them back up into the basket. Satou never stops hustling, and it pays dividends.

4. The give-and-go

Satou has the IQ, length, and passing ability to execute the give-and-go – a classic basketball play – to perfection. Starting at the top of the key, Satou will spot an open teammate. Usually at the three point line, and dish the ball to them. Once her defender has eased off her to cover the open shooter, Satou will accelerate rapidly, cutting to the basket to receive a surprise pass for an easy lay-up.

Satou Sabally’s strengths

Let’s take a look at the versatile set of skills that make Satou Sabally such a promising young player.

1. Defense

A big part of what helped boost Satou’s stock ahead of the WNBA Draft was her potential on the defensive end. Satou’s combination of guard-like mobility and length with an impressive wingspan alone make her a difficult match up for other forwards, ensuring she’s difficult to shoot over or to get around. Satou combines her physical gifts with her skill in navigating screens on D. Excelling on going both over, under, and through screens set by opposing offenses without losing her mark. As she continues to build her defensive toolset, Satou should be one of the WNBA’s most elite defenders sooner rather than later. 

2. Hustle

One of Satou’s most valuable skills on the basketball court is something that doesn’t always show up on box scores: her hustle and ability to chase down loose balls. From rebounds to picking up deflected passes, Satou excels at identifying where a ball is heading and hustling to get there. Her speed and determination in loose ball scenarios earns her teams extra possessions, and drives her teammates to play harder. Satou is especially skilled at chasing down her teammates’ missed shots, having grabbed the 9th most offensive rebounds in the WNBA last season. And ranking #10 in offensive rebounding percentage in the league. 

Satou Sabally runs half of the length of the baseline to grab a teammates missed shot in EuroLeague play for Fenerbahc
Satou Sabally runs half of the length of the baseline to grab a teammates missed shot in EuroLeague play for Fenerbahc.

3. Handles

On the offensive end, Satou Sabally has shown a propensity for guard-like play, with great ball-handling skills for a player of her size. While standing as tall as some WNBA Centers, Satou looks at ease with the ball in her hand. She comfortably takes opponents off the dribble to make space, cut to the rack, and finish through contact. This combination of length, willingness to finish through contact, and ball handling also helps generate regular trips to the line for Satou. Who attempted the 10th most free throws in the WNBA during her rookie season, despite missing 6 games. 

4. Passing

While it hasn’t necessarily translated to consistently high assist averages yet on the WNBA level, Satou is an above average passer and is adept at making her teammates – and herself – better with ball movement. There have been a few games, both in the WNBA and overseas in EuroLeague, where Satou has been able to rack up 4 or 5 assists. Usually as a result of drawing defenders to her by demonstrating herself as a scoring threat. 

Satou Sabally’s opportunities

While Satou shows a lot of promise, there are a few areas she can improve as her game continues to grow. As she put it herself, “I feel like I can work on every aspect of my game. I’m never satisfied with myself, and I never settle. But I will rebound hard, as hard as I can. I will drive harder to the basket because sometimes I still shy away from too much contact. Which I have done a lot better on that the past year. But I still want to improve on that. Get more finishes around the rim, more variations around the basket and from the arc.”

1. Three-point shot

In college, Satou Sabally became renowned as a three level scorer, able to hurt teams around the basket, in the midrange, or from deep. There are great highlights of Satou drilling threes off of slick Sabrina Ionescu feeds from their three years together. But since reaching the WNBA, Satou’s three point shot just hasn’t been connecting.

After shooting a respectable 38.6% from three over her career at University of Oregon, Satou only converted 19.7% of her three-point attempts with the Wings her rookie season. Certainly, part of this comes from the WNBA three-point line being further back, as well as a higher standard of perimeter defense at the professional level. Regardless, Satou would do well to regain her confidence and efficiency in her three-pointer soon, to help space the floor for Dallas and increase her efficiency overall. 

2. Fouls

Satou Sabally is an active defender, and an unfortunate side effect of this is that she can sometimes get herself into foul trouble. Which limits her team’s ability to rely on her down the stretch in competitive games. In her rookie season, Satou had 4 or more fouls in 10 of her 16 appearances, including the season-opening loss she fouled out of. To keep opposing offenses off the free-throw line, and keep herself on the floor, Satou has to work on defending without fouling. 

3. Efficiency outside the paint

While Satou converts over half of her shot attempts within the paint, her efficiency quickly drops when defenses force her to shoot from any further out than that. Check out this table, via stats.WNBA.com, that demonstrates Satou’s limitations outside the paint.

Satou Sabally's shot chart

Everything else you want to know about Satou Sabally

Satou’s activism

Satou Sabally is the youngest member of the WNBPA’s Social Justice Council, a pioneering group of WNBA players and employees dedicated to advancing social justice causes, and providing education to the league and its fans. A citizen of the world, Satou brings a valuable perspective on racism around the world to the predominantly American Social Justice Council. “Sabally has been outspoken already, so she’s a great fit,” fellow Social Justice Council leader Layshia Clarendon told Erica Ayala. 

“My mind just keeps going, and going, and going,” Satou told Ayala, “I have that sense for justice…[Racism] has to be spoken more about. I want to use my platform to shine a light on it, and speak about it.” Satou has already emerged as a premier activist-athlete, following in the footsteps of heroes of hers such as fellow Muslim Muhammad Ali, as well as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and Serena Williams.

Satou Sabally’s social media

Satou Sabally uses her social media accounts for sharing personal updates, highlights and team pictures, and really funny videos. She also uses her social media following to extend the messaging of her activist work. “I’m really active on social media about racism and equality,” Satou told The Undefeated.

Satou can be found on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @Satou_Sabally, and can be also be found on TikTok @satouandkiah, where she posts videos with Fenerbahçe teammate Kiah Stokes. Plus, check out the fire Unicorn tee she offers in her shop.

@satou_sabally

WNBA season started and the haters couldn’t wait 😍 #wnba #bubble #nba #Basketball #females #haters #fyp #foryoupage

♬ Rating – astuanta

Satou Sabally’s stats

Check out Satou Sabally’s promising numbers from her college days, and rookie season with the Dallas Wings in the WNBA.

Satou Sabally’s 2018-2020 Oregon Ducks College Stats

Satou Sabally's 2018-2020 Oregon Ducks College Stats
Satou Sabally’s college stats via Yahoo Sports

Her Dallas Wings WNBA Per Game Stats

Satou Sabally Dallas Wings WNBA Per Game Stats
via basketball-reference.com

Satou Sabally’s career benchmarks and awards

  • 2018 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year
  • 2019 All-Pac-12 Team
  • 2020 Cheryl Miller Award
  • AP Second Team All-America in 2020
  • 2020 WBCA First-Team All-America
  • #9 on Offensive Rebounds leaderboard for 2020 WNBA Season
  • 2020 WNBA All-Rookie Team

What’s next for Satou Sabally?

Satou’s busy delivering a successful season with overseas superteam Fenerbahçe in Turkey alongsidde the New York Liberty’s Kiah Stokes and Las Vegas Aces star Kayla McBride. But recently, a knee injury has sidelined her for the past few weeks.

Back stateside, Sataou can expect a new head coach with the Dallas Wings this coming season, after the Wings parted ways with Brian Agler. It will be exciting to see what Vickie Johnson can bring out in Satou, Arike, and the rest of the Dallas Wings’ young core. No doubt, if Satou has anything to say about it, it’ll be a show.

Up next, learn how to watch WNBA players overseas, or discover more about Satou’s teammate Arike Ogunbowale.

Written by Dani Bar-Lavi, a WNBA writer. Find them on Twitter, and visit their pages at NetsRepublic and Sports Are From Venus.

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