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SPOTLIGHT: Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut Sun Forward

SPOTLIGHT: Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut Sun Forward

Chiney Ogwumike: Here Comes the Sun – Part I

by Andy Lipton (Contributor)

George Harrison of the Beatles was sometimes referred to as “the quiet Beatle”.  You’ll find his 1969 song Here Comes the Sun, on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, along with his song Something.  During the recording sessions for Abbey Road his bandmate Paul McCartney told fellow Beatle John Lennon that ‘[n]ow this year, his songs are at least as good as ours.”   The Beatles: 100 Greatest Songs, RollingStone, November 28, 2013.

Recent Stanford University grad, International Relations major, overall number one draft pick in the 2014 WNBA Draft, and rookie for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun, the personally outgoing Chiney Ogwumike had already come into her own as a basketball player before the Sun’s season started.  Having watched her play in college, there is no doubt she is a terrific player.   But like any player going into the pros, there were questions before the season began as to how she would adjust to the pro game, and in her case in particular, the physicality she would face from bigger and stronger players.

Facing and answering those and other questions from a group of writers in the pre-season left an  impression about Chiney at least as good as her stellar college career. One day she will have an impact way beyond the basketball court.

How would I describe her?  Intelligent, personable, friendly, positive, good-natured, and good-humored – just to name a few.  She could win over anybody.  My prediction: One day Condoleezza Rice will not be the most famous United States Secretary of State associated with Stanford University.  Our country’s chief ambassador to and relationship builder with the rest of the world will one day be Chiney Ogwumike.

If this seems a stretch and too heady a prediction for a 22-year old rookie pro basketball player, I would remind you of Bill Bradley. During his New York Knicks playing career, teammates always said Bill would be President of the United States.  They weren’t that far off.  Bradley got closer than most. Bradley was a United States Senator for 18 years. He was Al Gore’s main competitor in seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for President in 2000.

Chiney’s whole persona says “ambassador”.  She took on all questions from the writers. She was serious in being truly responsive, but in such a personable and friendly manner, and with a wit that often evoked numerous laughs in agreement.  When asked to describe the difference between her college coach, hall-of-famer Tara VanDerveer, and her new coach, Sun’s 6’ 8”, Anne Donovan, also a hall-of-famer, Chiney diplomatically answered that Donovan was taller.

Chiney said one of the biggest lessons she learned at Stanford was how to use your talents to make others better.  This young lady, who says she might have gone into gymnastics had she not grown so tall, is down to earth.  Her television show tastes run the gamut from Scandal to The Millionaire Matchmaker.  She likes television so much she kiddingly (I think) said that if she got fired as a basketball player, she would become a TV critic.  And despite her travels to many different places as a Stanford player, at the time of our discussion she had never been in New York (other than for a possible layover at an airport), and was not yet sure where she would spend time hanging out.

Unlike Bill Bradley, who did not intend on playing in the NBA upon graduation from Princeton, and spent close to two years after graduation studying at Oxford and then going into the Air Force Reserves, Ogwumike is passionate about fulfilling a long time ambition to play professional basketball.  Raised in Texas, the 6’4” Ogwumike has played on excellent high school and college teams, and been recognized for her basketball prowess.

The accomplishments and awards are numerous.  The 2014 recipient of the John R. Wooden Award for being the most outstanding Women’s college basketball player. A three-time All-American selected by Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.  Her Stanford teams made the Final Four three out of her four seasons.  She is the leading scorer and rebounder in Pacific-12 history.  Not last and not least, she was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12 for three years.

Offensively, Ogwumike plays down low in the post.  She uses ever-moving feet that constantly move her body relatively quickly, and wiry strength to gain great position.  Many post players in the men’s game could learn from her – use your feet more to gain better position and the ability to shoot with fluidity, as opposed to being somewhat stationary and relying on bulk.  The biggest individual basketball challenge Ogwumike faced at the beginning of the season was the rugged wider and bigger-bodied opponents that would guard her in the WNBA.

It seemed to me that in her last college game, in the Final Four against UConn, the bigger and wider Stefanie Dolson did a good job guarding her and taking away a good portion of her offense.  But Chiney countered and said it was not just Dolson, but the double and triple teaming of her, and the threat of such, that that played a big role.  She thought that with the defensive three-second rule in the WNBA, the threat of a double and triple-team was not as great.  She knew though that the one-on-one guarding of her would be more physical in the WNBA than in college.

My own feeling during pre-season was that she should drive to the hoop more from the outside and also develop a short pull-up jumper. She definitely has the athleticism to do it. Going into the season, Ogwumike had high hopes. The goal was for her team to get wins.  She could control two things.  Her attitude and effort. Have a positive attitude, work hard, be unselfish, earn the trust of your teammates.  She knew there was still a lot to learn and was facing her challenges with calm resolve.

Many considered the Connecticut Sun to be in a rebuilding year. Last year’s Sun team finished 10-24 and out of the playoffs.  Before this season began, management was forced to trade its star player, center Tina Charles. Charles, who hails from Jamaica, New York,  wanted to go back to her hometown and play for the New York Liberty.

Since high school, Chiney Ogwumike has only known winning basketball teams.  But not this year, her first pro season. With one week and two games left in the season, the Sun was eliminated from playoff contention this past Sunday.  Its record is 12-20. Ogwumike leads the team in scoring and rebounding.

I hope to catch up with Chiney Ogwumike again and get her thoughts on the season, and the impact the past four months as a Connecticut Sun has had on her life.   As Paul McCartney once wrote, “I’ll follow the sun”.


About the author – Andy Lipton is a freelance writer and also a huge Women’s Basketball Fan.

Photos courtesy of Todd L. Green

Video credit:  Denise Saul, WSENetwork.com

& Deane Davis, WSENetwork.com


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