With an infectious on- and off-court charisma, the Ogwumikes are the first family of women’s basketball. As the first sisters to sign endorsement deals with Nike Basketball, both Chiney and Nneka are poised for greatness if their resumes are any indication of things to come.
Last month, Chiney Ogwumike was the first pick in the WNBA draft. Two years prior, Chiney’s sister Nneka, the oldest of four Ogwumike girls, also claimed the No. 1 spot in the WNBA draft.
Both girls had stellar careers at Stanford University, excelling both in the classroom and on the basketball court. Chiney Ogwumike, a 6'4' power forward, was named conference player of the year twice. She led the Cardinal to the Final Four in the women’s basketball championship three times in four years, and earned this year’s John R. Wooden Award, which honors college basketball’s most outstanding man and woman.
Nneka Ogwumike, a 6'2" power forward, also collected two conference MVP honors – which means Chiney or Nneka both reigned as conference players of the year in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Nneka was named WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2012.
Nneka became a member of the Nike family soon after she was drafted, and Chiney has just followed in her sister’s footsteps. The sisters bring a new angle to Inside Access with this exclusive Q&A.
Congratulations on being the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft. How do you feel about being selected with the first pick two years after your sister was?
Chiney Ogwumike: It was unbelievable. Anything can happen in drafts, so I did not have extremely high expectations. But to be selected No. 1 by the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena [her new home court] in front of all of their fans – it was unreal! And to also share that moment with my family, especially my big sister, was beyond amazing. Growing up, we never envisioned the amazing path that basketball would take us on, so we are living a dream-turned-reality.
What does it mean to you to become a member of the Nike family?
Chiney Ogwumike: I have felt like an honorary member for a long time since I played on a Nike Amateur Athletic Union team and on a Nike-sponsored team at Stanford University, so to officially sign as a professional athlete is an absolute honor. The best athletes are in the Nike family; I will work my tail off to make the organization proud.
I must mention, I was always on the go at Stanford, from class to practice, and Nike apparel was a great balance, especially the streetwear. I am a tights addict!
You went to the same high school, and then the same college. How do you feel about playing on opposing teams for the first time?
Chiney Ogwumike: I think it will be fun. The day was bound to come when we would have to be on opposing teams. The only time I went head-to-head against Nneka was once during practice at Stanford. She claims I threw an elbow at her so she chased me down on the next possession and said, ‘I am coming for you!’ I immediately told Coach Tara [VanDerveer] I needed a sub and stalled until the next drill. Coach Tara must have sensed Nneka’s wrath because Nneka and I never were on opposing teams in practice again!
Nneka Ogwumike: The thought of guarding my sister during the upcoming WNBA season has haunted me for a while. We've successfully avoided it long enough though…it will be some healthy, fun competition.
How did your experience as a Stanford player change after your sister graduated?
Chiney Ogwumike: Nneka and I talk about everything. I am her psychologist and counselor. And I always remind people that she is the same to me — my sanity. After Nneka made her transition to the WNBA, she kept saying, ‘I can’t wait for you to join me!’ I was too busy enjoying college, so her pleas went in one ear and out the other. But when I finally made it to an L.A. Sparks game, it became so real to me. I wanted to be like Nneka. From then on, everything I did aimed at putting me in a good position to play professionally.
You and your sister offer great examples of how to balance school and athletics. What advice would you give to other young athletes – and to their parents – about balancing school, sports and the rest of life?
Chiney Ogwumike: I didn’t have that much ‘fun’ growing up. While my peers went to the movies and hung out, I did homework or went to AAU practice. At the time, I felt like I was missing out. Looking back, I would not have had it any other way. My parents taught us that investing in our future is rewarding and fun because from there, doors will open that will put us in a better position to make our dreams realities. My advice is to take what you love and invest in it. When you are passionate about what you do, it can take you places you never imagined.
You graduated early, in March, with a degree in international relations. Former Secretary of State and current Stanford University professor Condoleezza Rice was your advisor. Is she a big basketball fan?
Chiney Ogwumike: To say Dr. Rice is a sports fan is a huge understatement. Not only does she support sports, she builds relationships with student-athletes. After one of our big wins during my freshman year, Dr. Rice came up to me in the locker room and said she heard I had similar academic interests as her. From there, our relationship bloomed into her becoming my advisor for my international relations degree. She was the one who inspired me to study abroad for eight weeks during the school year, which is taboo in the athlete community. After I went to Nigeria and came back, many other athletes inquired about going, too.
Dr. Rice taught me two very important things. First, you can have it all. Student-athletes do not have to sacrifice academics in place of athletics, or vice versa. Secondly, sports are a great unifier.
What would you like to do after your playing days are over?
Chiney Ogwumike: I do not know, but I do know my passions and interests will steer me in this direction: court, classroom and community empowerment. I am also passionate about global causes and expanding the game to Africa, my roots. I am also obsessed with media and communication, so who knows? My next academic goal is to get a Master of Business Administration, law degree, or a JD-MBA.
Your parents were adamant about always putting school first. Is it true that your mother is pushing you to start work on a master’s degree?
Nneka Ogwumike: She started pushing the day after I graduated! I've completed and submitted my application. Fingers crossed that I start a curriculum toward my MBA in the fall.
You and your sister both made music together at Stanford – "Nerd City Kids" has become a theme song for the Stanford athletic department. And you followed that with "N-E-R-D-S (#NerdAnthem)." Will you continue this path in music?
Chiney Ogwumike: Of course I hope to continue with the fun projects. We made those videos for our fans. I firmly believe that women’s basketball is extremely powerful; all it takes is for a fan to get to know you, and then they are hooked. I think the gender disparity in professional basketball has allowed the women’s game to develop a culture of community involvement and interaction. This bond is what makes us unique and what I cherish so dearly. I put myself out there in forms of fun videos or social media so I can share my story, a story in which the sport has opened doors for me that have transformed the trajectory of my life.
What do your two younger sisters think about your success and how does that motivate them to succeed in basketball?
Chiney Ogwumike: Our younger sisters, Olivia and Erica, are our biggest fans. They both play basketball, and we always have and will continue to support them in whatever endeavor they choose. We want them to discover their own path and own it.
"Inside Access" is a series providing an inside look at Nike Basketball through the lens of events, innovation and athletes. Look for new features the first Tuesday of each month throughout the basketball season.