Catching up with Nneka Ogwumike
Throughout the 2010-11 season, USA Basketball is talking to athletes who competed for the red, white and blue this past summer. We’re asking them to look back at their international experience, to talk about their current basketball season and to describe what they hope to achieve in the future. Check back often to read up on more USA Basketball athletes at usabasketball.com.
In her third season at Stanford, Nnemkadi ‘Nneka’ Ogwumike is already one of the nation’s rising stars.
She has won a pair of gold medals in international competition, at the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship, played in a pair of NCAA Finals Fours, won two Pacific-10 Conference Tournament and regular season crowns, and was the only then-sophomore invited to be on the 2010 USA Select Team that trained against the USA Basketball Women’s National Team last spring. Additionally, Ogwumike earned a spot on the five-person 2009 All-FIBA U19 World Championship Team honors after helping lead the U.S. to gold, was a 2010 All-American, the 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year and the Pac-10 Tournament MVP.
As a member of the ’10 USA Select Team, Ogwumike got an opportunity that not many young athletes get. She spent the better part of a week going up against the USA National Team. She also had the opportunity to be coached by USA and University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, as well as USA assistant Doug Bruno of DePaul University and court coaches Debbie Ryan of the University of Virginia and three-time Olympian Dawn Staley of the University of South Carolina.
USA Basketball conducted the camp to give the USA National Team time to train and to develop future national team players. Ogwumike said she learned a lot from working with the coaching staff, USA Select Team players and the USA National Team members.
“On the court, it's more than just making the pass or making the cut, it's what it takes for you to do it well and what it takes for you to be aggressive,” she told USA Basketball at the conclusion of the camp. “I learned a lot about intensity and what people bring to the court aside from skill. Off the court, I learned about being a good leader and incorporating everyone in the team and keeping that team congruency intact.”
Ogwumike is in the midst of another All-American year. Having led the Cardinal to a 6-2 mark (as of Dec. 21, 2010) , Ogwumike is currently averaging team-highs of 17.1 points and 8.9 rebounds a game.
The oldest of four girls, Nneka is also fortunate to be able to play collegiately with her sister, Chiney, a freshman at Stanford, who is posting 11.1 ppg. and a team second-best 6.8 rpg. as a starter. On the same track as her older sister, Chiney last summer won a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and is hoping to return for the 2011 FIBA U19 Worlds.
We caught up with Nneka recently to find out if she still feels the same about her USA Select Team experience, what advice she might have for her younger sister and if she’s ready to return to the red, white and blue.
You played on the USA Select Team last spring after playing on three other USA Basketball teams. How did that experience differ from your other USA Basketball experiences?
It was different because one, I wasn’t amongst age-mates. I was amongst more extreme players. Also, a few players that I obviously played against that past year and continue to play against, but I was definitely amongst more veterans in basketball. It was a really interesting experience.
What did you learn from that week working with Geno Auriemma, Doug Bruno, Debbie Ryan and Dawn Staley?
What I learned from Geno Auriemma is that he approaches the game with a very simplistic perspective. He explained to us that it’s not complicated at all in that learning a few basic things can kind of get you through. But at the same time, applying yourself and being more effortful is what distinguishes really great players. His coaching style is kind of, he has a lot of personality, but he also is very interpersonal with the players. I really appreciated the fact that he took the time to get to know us, as well as coach us.
Obviously Dawn Staley was a great player and she was coaching us … they all kind of have the same views. She was really into, ‘be aggressive and try as hard as you can.’ Not really to over think much. Coach Bruno, they all were hitting on some basic points that you really don’t think about while you’re out there playing.
Do you think that having been able to play for some top coaches in the country while on USA Basketball teams has helped your game?
Absolutely. Obviously we have our own respective teams. We’ve played on our own teams for our universities. Doing that, alongside playing USA Basketball, you get to experience different coaches, very decorated coaches, and also you get to play with players that you can relate to. The small time that we get to experience that is really helpful in understanding what the main goal is when you’re out there playing. It helped me learn a lot more about maturity, going out there and doing your best. Rather than focusing on skills, I would have to say that in a situation with USA Basketball, playing for all these coaches, with all these players, helps develop you as a player less on a basketball perspective and more so in terms of integrity and dignity, kind of all those realms.
What are some of your best memories of the USA Basketball Select Team- both on and off the court?
Nothing specifically, but obviously we got to play against the USA National Team, and that was a really great memory. Not everyone can say that they can do that. Off the court, getting to know all the players was a lot of fun. Going to coach Auriemma’s house for dinner was a lot of fun as well.
Do you still keep in touch with some of your teammates?
A little bit, yeah. Obviously we’re all busy, but for the most part I do.
Your sister Chiney is on the same track you were on – she played for the U18 team and will hopefully return to play in the U19 World Championship. Do you have any advice for her in terms of the international game?
When you get invited to those trials, you’re invited for a reason and that’s because you’re a good player. But I tell her that what sets people apart from different things is just about your effort and what you put out there. It’s not necessarily about how many points you score or how many rebounds you get, it’s all about your effort and your attitude.
What would it mean to one day win a gold medal with your sister on the same podium?
That would be really fun. I think that would be something that not a lot of people could say that they did. That would mean a lot.
Did you follow the USA Women’s World Championship Team this summer?
I wasn’t following in a very detailed fashion, but I was keeping up.
Did you feel more connected to that team, having won a gold medal for your country and having played against many of them last spring?
Yeah, I had more of an understanding about what they were doing. I did feel I had a little bit more of a connection, after having played against them.
Finally, would you come back and play for USA Basketball again?
Yeah, that would be a wonderful opportunity, to go to more countries and try to win more gold medals.