Ogwumike bids farewell to big stage | March 28, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 28, 2014

Ogwumike bids farewell to big stage

Stanford Regional marks the final home hoop games for one of team's all-time greats

by Rick Eymer

Chiney Ogwumike acknowledges her zeal for taking 'selfies.' Like every other label placed upon Stanford's senior All-American women's basketball player, she relishes it.

It seems Ogwumike can't walk more than a few steps before bringing out her phone and snapping a few pictures of herself and anyone who happens to be nearby.

"I remember her coming in to visit Neka and being so different from her sister," Cardinal fifth-year senior Mikaela Ruef said of her first recollection of Ogwumike. "It's not that Neka was shy, but Chiney has always been super out-going. She's taking selfies everywhere we go. That's just part of who she is."

Ogwumike, sitting to Ruef's left, nodded in agreement, sitting up and taking a few quick pictures from a make-believe phone.

Selfies, though, does not translate into selfish, the polar opposite to Ogwumike's personality. Ruef also caught a glimpse of that part of Ogwumike before she ever played a game for the Cardinal.

"I was thinking with her and Neka playing, the team was going to be good."

Stanford won 93 percent of its games (68-5) when the Ogwumike sisters played together and reached the national semifinal contest both years.

The Cardinal went unbeaten in conference play both years, winning both the regular-season title and the conference tournament championship.

When her older sister left, Chiney Ogwumike made sure there wouldn't be much of a drop off. Stanford is 64-6 the past two years entering Sunday's NCAA tournament game against Penn State in Maples Pavilion at 1:30 p.m. The semifinal of the Stanford Regional will be televised on ESPN2. Top-seeded South Carolina will play North Carolina at 4 p.m. The winners will play Tuesday at 6 p.m., with that winner advancing to the NCAA Final Four.

No matter what happens, Ogwumike will be making her final appearance(s) in Maples Pavilion.

"I've had a great experience over the last four years," Ogwumike said. "I'm so glad life has brought me here, and I've been able to capitalize on all these things."

And her teammates have been happy to have her, as well.

"My dad asked me earlier this year whom I'd most like playing with, past, present or future," Ruef said. "I love passing to Chiney. She really is, in my opinion, the best player in the country."

It's an opinion shared by many. Statistically, Ogwumike has no rival. There are players who have more points, more rebounds, a better field-goal percentage and more double-doubles than Ogwumike, though only Ogwumike is among the national leaders in all four categories.

Ogwumike also has 63 blocked shots, 42 steals and 54 assists this season. Put it all together and the sum is greater than the parts.

"She's the greatest teammate," Ruef said. "She's humble and she's a great leader. When things aren't going well, she's the one who rounds everybody up and says it will be all right."

Ogwumike, who will go early in the WNBA draft, is hoping to return to the Final Four for the third time in her collegiate. She missed out last year when the Cardinal fell to Georgia in the Sweet 16.

"We want to win a national championship," said Ogwumike, who finds a way to talk about team, deflecting questions about her. "When we use that language, we set our expectations high. Here at home, we have an important game. We have to play every game like it's a national championship."

No matter what happens in the NCAA tournament, Ogwumike takes her place among the elite to ever play women's basketball at Stanford. Not only will she finish as the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, she will likely be first or second in other career categories like field-goal percentage, points per game, rebounds per game and blocked shots.

Her next blocked shot will be No. 200, one behind Val Whiting for second all-time to Jayne Appel's 273.

"Never under estimate Chiney," warns Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "The girl has a way to understand what the team needs. Don't worry about Chiney."

Jennifer Azzi was always thought of as the greatest Cardinal of them all until she christened Candice Wiggins with the moniker in 2008.

Ogwumike took over the all-time school scoring lead from Wiggins the first time she scored in Stanford's 81-62 victory over South Dakota in the first round of the tournament.

"I was aware of it," Ogwumike said. "I got a text from Candice saying 'you can do it; go for it.'"

Ogwumike, who gave the world "Nerd City Kids" and "N-E-R-D-S (#NerdAnthem)," said her desire to return home was the driving force behind Stanford's visit to Ames, Iowa for the first two rounds.

"We knew if we played hard we would get to play at Maples again," she said. "That was our No. 1 challenge. I'd like to think we could find that again. If we play like that, we'll be hard to beat."

Ogwumike was in the stands in San Antonio, watching her sister Nnemkadi play in the national championship game in 2010. Stanford lost, 53-47, to Connecticut after being up at halftime.

"By that time I knew I was going to Stanford and realized it was a great program," Ogwumike said. "I was so excited to go. I thought 'Wow, this is the Final Four and Stanford is such a special place. It's the pinnacle of women's basketball and they are playing for all the right reasons.

"You're not playing for money and you're not playing for serious notoriety," she said. "You're playing for school pride, for the coaching staff and for your family. What I saw then became my No. 1 goal.

"We already have a great fallback with Stanford," she said. "Why not go out and give it all we've got?"


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.