Ogwumike Sisters Hoping To Make USA World University Games Team A Family Affair
Colorado Springs, Colo. • May 23, 2011
After winning two gold medals with USA Basketball, playing in the USA Youth Development Festival when she was just 16 years old and training with the USA Select Team against the USA Women's National Team in April of 2010, Nnemkadi (Nneka) Ogwumike is in the hunt for another roster spot on a USA team, and this time she's hoping to make it a family affair.
As they are at Stanford, Nneka and her sister Chiney Ogwumike are on the floor together in this week's 2011 USA Basketball Women's World University Games Team Trials at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where 35 of the nation's top college athletes are vying for just 12 roster spots.
"We are definitely supporting each other," Nneka said. "We have always been more of a collaborative duo rather than a competitive duo. When the time comes, though, we always compete hard against each other and try to make each other better."
This past season, with Nneka in her junior year and Chiney as a freshman with the Cardinal, the Ogwumike sisters helped Stanford to a 33-3 record, including a perfect 18-0 in the Pacific-10 Conference (Pac-10), a Pac-10 regular season championship, Pac-10 Tournament title and the NCAA Tournament Final Four.
Nneka averaged a team-high 17.5 ppg. and 7.6 rpg. and was named as an All-American by the John R. Wooden award, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, State Farm/Women's Basketball Coaches Association and Full Court Press. She also earned Assocated Press All-America second team honors, was named the NCAA Tournament Spokane Regional Most Oustanding Player, the Pac-10 Tournament MVP and listed on the All-Pac-10 first team.
"Honestly, training against the women's national team last April gave me a whole different persepective. When you are with the junior national teams, often times it's a first-time experience and you are a little overwhelmed. After playing in Connecticut, though, I have a greater understanding for the speed of the game on the next level and the time and commitment that goes into everything the national team players do. It gives me perspective on the World University Games, and I was really honored to come back here again. I'm really excited to try out and hopefully I will make the team and continue to work my way up the system."
As a freshman in 2010-11, Chiney also had an impressive season. She averaged 11.7 ppg. along with a team-high (tie) 8.0 rpg., while leading the team in steals with 52. She was named a Full Court Press Freshman All-American and to the NCAA Tournament All-Spokane Regional Team. Honored as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Chiney also was a member of the Pac-10 All-Conference Team, All-Defensive Team and All-Tournament Team.
"It was awesome to play alongside Nneka at Stanford," Chiney said. "She helped me so much. I have someone who I can turn to for any question, on and off the court, so having that just helped me so much, even in the classroom."
It's no surprise that the elder sister shares her experience and knowledge with the younger sister, but both said Chiney has ways of helping to keep Nneka on track, too.
"Nneka doesn't understand how good she is in a way," Chiney said. "Because we are so close, I notice when right away when she gets timid or shies away from the paint, and I tell her, 'Nneka, you are a force in the paint. You can do this.'"
If the pair are named together to the 2011 USA World Univeristy Games Team, they will become just the third sisters in USA Basketball history to play on the same team, and the first sisters in more than 20 years. In 1989 and 1990 twins Heather and Heidi Burge competed on the same team, and in 1981 Paul and Pam McGee played together on the U.S. Olympic Fesitval West Team.
With all of their athletic accomplishments, it should come as no surprise that the two also were in the running to play together on the 2008 USA Basketball U18 National Team. Nneka made the team and helped the USA to a 5-0 record and gold medal at the 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Chiney, 16 years old at the time, was not named to the 12-person roster.
"It would mean the world to me to make this team," Chiney said. "I had a chance to play on the same team as Nneka when I was young -- I was a baby basically. I thought I had a shot, but didn't make it. I think I'm more experienced now, but at the same time there is so much competition. This is a big challenge for me because many of these players are well-seasoned college athletes. I'm just trying to adjust as quickly as possible and taking as much help from the coaches as I can. Nneka is one of the coaches for me, too."
The USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team committee will announce approximately 14 finalists for the World University Games Team on May 25, and Chiney admits the competition is tough.
"I feel like trials have been a struggle -- first adjusting to the altitude" Chiney said. "Having been here, I understand how to eat properly and hydrate myself, but it's a struggle to adjust to different players. I think the key for me is to remain fundamental because those are the things that got me here. I think people who shine here do the little things they are good at. I'm trying to finish at the basket and be a strong defensive player."
Like Chiney, Nneka said her current goal is to make the World University Games Team, but she also described how she sees USA Basketball as a unique opportunity to work on another one of her goals -- leadership.
"Everybody always wants to do something better on the court -- I want to shoot better," Nneka said. "But for me, I'm focused on trying to change my mentality to always come out and play as hard as I can. The special thing about that attitude is it's contagious and it spreads. When we play with USA Basketball, one of the cool things is that we get to play with players that we spent all year playing against. I'd really like to develop those relationships, and if I were able to make that part of the experience here at trials and continue that through the World University Games in China, I think that'd be really amazing."
On the morning of May 25, Nneka and Chiney will find out from the committee if they made the finalist roster. One thing is for certain regardless of the trials outcome here in Colorado Springs, the Stanford Cardinal should expect to have another tremendous season in 2011-12.
"I remember reading about USA Basketball and Derrick Rose, and how he said the reason he has such high confidence is because of his USA experience," Chiney said. "I'm just trying to emmulate that. At this moment, I am playing to make the World University Games Team, but my long term goals are to win a national championship with Stanford and to be on an Olympic Team."