Nov. 20, 2012
Catching Up With Nnemkadi Ogwumike - USA Basketball.com
Ogwumike USA Basketball Photo Gallery - USA Basketball.com
Courtesy USA Basketball.com
Nnemkadi Ogwumike first played for USA Basketball at the 2007 USA Youth Development Festival. Despite averaging a double-double of 12.8 points and 10.0 rebounds an outing, her USA Red Team finished with a 3-2 mark and took home the bronze medal. Since then she's won nothing but gold.
Ogwumike helped lead the 2008 USA U18 National Team to a perfect 5-0 slate, the gold medal and a berth to the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship. Starting all five games, she averaged team-highs of 12.6 ppg. and 8.0 rpg.
Ogwumike matriculated to Stanford University that fall and after being coached for a year by 1996 U.S. Olympic Team head coach Tara VanDerveer, returned and led the USA to the FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal. Ogwumike, who earned a spot on the five-member 2009 All-FIBA U19 World Championship Team, scored 22 points and hauled in 20 rebounds to lead the U.S. in an 87-71 victory over Spain in the gold medal game.
The youngest member of the 2010 USA Basketball Women's Select Team that trained with and scrimmaged against the 2010 USA National Team, Ogwumike won her third gold medal as a member of the 2011 USA World University Games Team. That one was even more special, given the fact that her younger sister, Chiney, was also on the team.
"It was great," the older Ogwumike sister said after winning gold in 2011. "People had talked about how there weren't very many sister duos. To be able to not only play with my sister on a USA team, but win a gold medal is something that a lot of people can't say."
Following a successful collegiate career at Stanford, where she helped the Cardinal advance to four NCAA Final Fours and played with her sister for her last two seasons, Ogwumike was selected as the top pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft. She was well worth it for the Los Angeles Sparks, which advanced to the Western Conference Finals and got 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds a game from the eventual 2012 WNBA Rookie of the Year.
Following the season, she did what most WNBA players do and headed off to Europe for the opportunity to continue to hone her skills in the EuroLeague. She signed to play for CCC Polkowice in Poland, which is competing a second straight year in the EuroLeague and hoping to improve on last year's 5-9 record. With a team that includes Australia's sharp-shooting Belinda Snell and Spain veteran Laia Palau, CCC is poised atop the Polish League standings with a 7-0 record, but is just 1-3 in EuroLeague action. Her club lost by four points to USO Mondeville to open the season and dropped its last two games, a two-point heartbreaker to Galatasaray and an 11-point defeat at the hands of the top club in the league this season, UMMC Ekaterinburg. The bright spot was a 68-59 victory over 2011 EuroLeague champion Perfumerias Avenida.
"I am ecstatic that we are in such a tough bracket," wrote an undeterred Ogwumike. "Without a tough bracket, measuring your success would be harder. Our team comes out every day and plays as hard as we can, because we know we can compete."
Ogwumike has played around the world with USA Basketball, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Bangkok, Thailand, to Shenzen, China, so it's no surprise that she was able to transition easily into her role with CCC Polkowice, where she's currently the EuroLeague's third leading scorer (18.8 ppg.) through four weeks.
"Playing for different USA teams really put me steps ahead in terms of familiarizing myself with a new team and coaches," wrote Ogwumike via email from her new home in Poland. "After maturing through those USA experiences, adjusting to my environment is more of a cultural experience than a cultural shock."
USA Basketball.com caught up with Ogwumike via email to find out how she's enjoying Poland, what she's doing off the court, her thoughts on FIBA 3x3 and more.
What has been the biggest adjustment for you - both on and off the court?
On the court, I had to get used to the FIBA rules. Though USA Basketball had me well acquainted with them, I just needed a few refreshers. Off the court, the biggest adjustment, BY FAR, was learning how to drive a stick shift vehicle. It took me a few days before I wasn't stalling every time I tried to move.
What made you sign with CCC Polkowice?
I signed with CCC Polkowice because of the many great things I had heard about the program. As informed by my agent and teammates who had played for the club, spending my rookie year in Poland proved both welcoming and competitive. I am very excited to be playing for them.
Even though you won the WNBA Rookie of the Year award, were you still a little surprised at how well you have been playing in the EuroLeague?
I wouldn't say I'm surprised at how I am performing in the EuroLeague because I feel USA and the WNBA prepared me well. The EuroLeague is obviously very competitive, and without USA and professional experience under my belt, my transition may not have been as smooth.
Do you socialize mostly with your teammates or have you found other Americans in the area with whom to hang out?
All socializing is with my teammates! Polkowice is a small town, however, I have introduced myself to a few locals that are avid supports of CCC.
What do you do when you're not playing/practicing? Have you explored any historical areas yet?
If you call driving 15 minutes to the closest bigger city, then heck yeah! Ha ha! In my free time I've started watching shows I've never watched before, reading novels, doing yoga, and finding local restaurants to enjoy Polish cuisine.
Did you play against any of your CCC teammates in any of the tournaments with USA Basketball?
I have never played against my teammates; and remarkably so, seeing that we have a few people from different places.
CCC has a huge biking component to its club. Does the basketball team support the cycling teams and vice versa or do your paths not cross much?
I've met the cycling coaches but have yet an opportunity to support them in competition. But, even though physically attending each other's events is tough, the club is a family and we support each other's success.
How are you keeping in touch with family & friends?
I communicate with my family and friends through almost all mediums of communication. I use a Magic Jack phone, WhatsApp, Viber, iMessage, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, everything!!
What do you think about FIBA's new 3x3 game and how excited or proud were you that Chiney helped the U.S. win the gold medal at the first FIBA 3x3 World Championship?
I was beyond excited to hear about this new FIBA event. I believe it breaks down the game to its essential components and allows players and spectators to enjoy basketball in its true essence. Chiney had a blast winning the gold and I had fun keeping up with it. I think it would be wonderful if we could include that in Rio!
What do you think you need to work on in order to make the next USA Basketball Women's National Team?
I need to keep being aggressive and being a leader. I'm realizing as I mature as a player, that I will always work on my skills, and, more specifically, my perimeter skills, but, if I maintain an aggressive mindset, the rest will follow. There are definitely no let-downs from here on out.
Obviously Chiney is still at Stanford, but are you still close and do you keep in touch with members of this year's Stanford team?
Absolutely! I talk to Chiney everyday and frequently keep in touch with my teammates that remained on the team and those who graduated. I told everybody that getting rid of me will be the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. :)
This summer USA Basketball will field teams for the U19 World Championship and World University Games. Given your experience with both events, what kind of advice do you have for the athletes who will be trying out for these two teams?
I would definitely advise athletes to be yourself. Don't do things you don't normally do. Do what you do best and always play to win. Playing to win can bring out only positive qualities in a player. And USA Basketball is all about winning and character.