Always a Panther: Former Pantherette Representing USA in Tokyo Olympics

Ariel Atkins dribbling basketball
Photo credit Duncanville ISD

Ariel Atkins In The National Spotlight At Summer Olympics

At the age of 24, Ariel Atkins has already built a storied basketball career. She’s a two-time state champion with the Duncanville Pantherettes, a former standout at the University of Texas and a WNBA champion with the Washington Mystics. Now, Ariel is headed to play basketball with the world watching.

In late June, Ariel was selected to represent the United States in Tokyo as a member of the USA National Women’s Basketball Team. The honor came after more than a year of competing in the USA National Team’s qualifying camps around the country.

“You hope to put your best foot forward at the camps and hope you can be an asset to help the team win a gold medal,” Ariel said. “It’s not just about whether you’re good or not. There’s a lot of women who could be in these positions, but they build a team as they see fit and see who plays well together.”

A Success Story On The Basketball Court

Ariel’s basketball journey is a success story. As a Duncanville Pantherette, her team won two state championships. They won 105 straight games from December of 2011 through February of 2014. She helped her University of Texas women’s basketball team make it to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16 three out of her four years in college. In 2016, the Longhorns made it all the way to the Elite Eight. In 2018, Ariel was drafted number seven by the Washington Mystics. That year, she was named to both the WNBA All-Rookie Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. The Mystics made it to the WNBA Finals in 2018. In 2019, they won the WNBA Championship.

Ariel attributes much of her success to her parents – who taught her how to focus and get things done, to not dwell on the past, but to keep pushing forward. She credits her high school basketball coach, Cathy Self-Morgan, with mentoring her on the court and off.

“I think Coach Self prepared me really well for high school and college, and she helped me see things from the eyes of a professional and not just a high school athlete,” Ariel said.

Representing the USA

Ariel said it’s an honor to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. She’s grateful for the women who went before her to forge a path in women’s basketball. Women like her college coach, Tina Thompson and her U.S. Olympics Women’s Team coach, Dawn Staley. She also gives credit to former Duncanville Pantherette, WNBA champion, Olympic gold medalist and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Tamika Catchings.

“For me it’s about representing our entire country, especially the young girls and women who look like me,” Ariel said.

It’s rare that Ariel gets time in her busy schedule to stop in Duncanville to see her family and friends. In 2019, she made a special trip to Duncanville High School to give some encouraging words to the Pantherettes.

“I’ve built a lot of relationships during my time at Duncanville High School. I’m thankful for them, and I hope they last a lifetime,” Ariel said.

After cheering her on in high school, college and her pro career, Ariel’s hometown is now prepared to rally behind her as she represents her country in the Olympics. She said she has always been thankful for the love and support.

“It’s been an honor to represent Duncanville and God and my family in the best way that I can,” Ariel said.