Commentary

Chiney Ogwumike finds own way

Senior, whose older sis also starred at Stanford, is second in nation in scoring

Originally Published: January 27, 2014
By Michelle Smith | espnW.com

The story is now part of Ogwumike lore. Nneka Ogwumike was out on the floor for the girls' first organized basketball practice clad in glasses and denim shorts.

Chiney, meanwhile, was in the bathroom crying and not coming out anytime soon after getting confused running the three-player weave drill.

[+] EnlargeChiney Ogwumike and Nnemkadi Ogwumike
AP Photo/Paul SakumaIfy Ogwumike's two oldest daughters, Chiney (left) and Nneka (right), have both starred for Stanford.

But younger sister hides no longer.

Chiney Ogwumike has carved out her own place on the basketball court in every way -- as a player, as a personality, as a leader. She has never shied from comparisons to her older sister -- in fact, often she initiates them -- but the legacy Chiney has built at Stanford is all her own.

Heading into Big Monday's game against USC (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 9 p.m. ET), Ogwumike is the Pac-12's all-time leading rebounder with nearly 20 games still left in her college career. She is in reach of becoming the conference's leading scorer, a record held by fellow Stanford star Candice Wiggins.

Ogwumike's final season has been her best yet, topping even last year's superb All-American effort. The 6-foot-4 senior forward is averaging 26.9 points per game, second in the nation behind Baylor's Odyssey Sims, and 12.2 rebounds per game for fourth-ranked Cardinal (18-1 overall, 7-0 Pac-12).

Ogwumike has scored at least 30 points in nine games this season, has been named the Pac-12 Player of the Week six times and has a strong case to be the national player of the year.

Still, she goes home after a game and stares at the stat sheet, looking for the places she has come up short.

"If I do something wrong, I think about it forever," Ogwumike said. "The first thing I see is the turnovers, and then the assists, to see if I can pass the ball better. Next, it's free throws, and I think about whether I'm as unselfish with my teammates as they are with me.

"These things haunt me at night. I'm in a constant state of wanting to be better."

Ify Ogwumike said the second of her four daughter "never rests."

"She wants to do everything," Ify Ogwumike said.

Nneka Ogwumike said she doesn't worry about her younger sister.

"She does that enough for herself," said Nneka Ogwumike, who communicates with Chiney almost daily despite playing in China. "She's so critical of herself and what she can do to offer others. She wants to make an impact."

That Chiney has done that is not in dispute. She is one of the most visible student-athletes on the Stanford campus, perhaps second only to the highest-profile players on the Cardinal football team. She is outgoing, the kind of player who defines a program's culture, from her spearheading of now-famous team music videos to the boundless energy she brings to the floor.

But, beyond their common fruits of success -- Pac-12 titles, individual honors -- Chiney Ogwumike has had a very different collegiate journey from her eldest sister's. Nneka was constantly surrounded by All-American-caliber talent in her time at Stanford, from Jayne Appel to Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen to Chiney herself. Chiney, meanwhile, has been more of a solo act, the player who has carried the Cardinal the past two seasons -- physically, statistically and emotionally.

But, in her senior season, Chiney has found support in the form of junior point guard Amber Orrange and some of the country's best 3-point shooters: junior Taylor Greenfield and the Samuelson sisters, Bonnie and Karlie.

Stanford dropped 15 3-pointers on Arizona on Jan. 17, and the Cardinal are shooting better than 40 percent as a team from beyond the arc. Five players have hit at least 17 3-pointers this season.

Still, everything runs through Ogwumike, whose game has evolved from rebounder and inside scorer to versatile post with a face-up game.

"She is working really hard to become a better ball handler, a better passer and defender, a better perimeter shooter," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "She finds a way to score."

VanDerveer has had a bird's-eye view of Chiney's career, and the way she stepped so quickly out of Nneka's shadow. The Hall of Fame coach admitted she didn't know how it would go for Chiney or her team when Nneka graduated. But she quickly got her answer when Chiney became a force.

"She gave us more than I expected," VanDerveer said. "Nneka is kind of the mom, a second mom," VanDerveer said. "Second children are pleasers. Chiney wants to do the right thing all the time. She works hard to do the right thing."

Nneka took the coach's assessment one step further.

"Chiney's always down to the nitty-gritty," Nneka said. "She's always been a fighter, a warrior."

Chiney Ogwumike is preparing for the next step in her career as the Cardinal move through the conference schedule and toward the NCAA tournament, then beyond. Stanford has a prime opportunity to make its sixth trip to the Final Four since 2008, with the possibility of playing at home in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

And Chiney is in line to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft in April.

"She's more pro-ready than I was when I graduated," Nneka said. "She is always 12 steps ahead, a quality of hers that used to keep me on my toes. I can't wait for her to start this journey with me."

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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