Diggins, Ogwumike Have Become USA ‘Franchise’ Players
Aug. 4, 2011 • Colorado Springs, Colo.
The final roster for the 2011 USA Basketball Women’s World University Games team is chock full of talent, with multiple NCAA Final Fours and multiple All-America honors found up and down the list of 12 players who will represent their country Aug. 14-21 in Shenzhen, China.
That’s all well and good, but none of that likely will help as much as experience will when the U.S. tips against Brazil in its first game of pool play in a couple weeks.
And not just experience with big-time basketball -- though there’s plenty of that to go around. No, the ace in the hole for head coach Bill Fennelly (Iowa State) can be found on the resumés of Skylar Diggins (Notre Dame/South Bend, Ind.) and Nnemkadi “Nneka” Ogwumike (Stanford/Cypress, Texas).
Diggins and Ogwumike have been to this rodeo before.
Twice, in fact.
Diggins was a member of the United States’ 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship and 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship teams. And so was Ogwumike, who scored 22 points in the United States’ 2009 U19 gold-medal win against Spain and led the USA in scoring during the 2008 U18 Championship
Both were also participants in the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival here in Colorado Springs.
So there isn’t much this duo hasn’t seen on the international-basketball scene, and having them in the fold figures to be a boost later this month when the United States tries for its eighth gold medal in World University Games play.
“Me and Skylar have talked a lot about that already,” says Ogwumike (O-gwoo-mi-kay), a first-generation Nigerian-American. “We were like, ‘We’re the only two people here from the very first!’ I remember way back when, when we were 16 at the very first training camp, so many of our friends were there, but every single time we have been able to push each other and push through to make each and every cut.
“I’m extremely excited to be on this team, especially with my sister (Chiney Ogwumike). I’m just looking forward to the process. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Added Diggins, who led Notre Dame to the NCAA national championship game this season, where the Irish fell to Texas A&M: “Every time you come out here, it’s another opportunity to play for your country, and all those experiences rank higher than anything I’ve ever done in basketball, including the national championship game. I know what this is like, and I know what it’s like to win it.”
All the players in camp this week at the United States Olympic Training Center are accomplished beyond compare on the basketball court, with nearly all having earned at least some national award this season or being picked for any number of national postseason honor teams.
This squad represents the country’s best of the best, which should come as no surprise.
But what Ogwumike and Diggins bring to the table is something special.
Basketball is played with a different emphasis internationally. The rules are slightly different, the opponents are … well … foreign, and the “USA” on the front of the players’ jerseys might as well be a bull’s-eye on their backs.
The whole thing can all be a little daunting for an amateur athlete, but not for Diggins or Ogwumike.
It used to be, sure. But, not anymore.
“Having been here, you kind of know how things are going to go, and you can kind of help people,” Diggins says. “Like for me, I’m out here with two of my teammates (Notre Dame’s Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters), and this is their first time in anything like this. But I was really able to help, being here so many times.
“Right away, I told them straight up the overall attitude and mind-set they needed to have coming in, and I looked them both in the eyes and said, ‘We’re not losing two championships in a row. We lost the national championship, so let’s just go win a world championship instead.’ This is a great group of women, including my (Notre Dame) teammates, and it’s been a great competition and camp getting ready for what’s ahead of us. I hope I’ve been able to help with that.”
Ogwumike, a senior for the Cardinal, says being somewhat of a franchise player for USA Basketball -- she’s been in the program’s pipeline since she was in high school in Cypress, Texas -- has been interesting in that she can vividly remember how she was then, in 2007 at the YDF, and how she is now, a veteran on Fennelly’s squad.
If she could give the Nneka Ogwumike of 2007 any hints, what would she say?
“Most people think that playing for the United States (and in these international tournaments) is all about showcasing your talent, but it’s not at all,” she says. “I used to think that way, but I’d have to say playing in this system for so long has definitely taught me more and more about leadership, which is what it’s really all about.
“And a lot of the things I’ve learned here I can bring back to my campus and teach my teammates about what I learned. That’s helped us there have a pretty memorable run.”
For all of their experiences, though, there is one thing still that the two players say they will never get used to: winning gold on basketball’s biggest stage.
Diggins says she keeps her three USA Basketball gold medals on display in her room, just waiting for a fourth to complete the set from her collegiate career.
Ogwumike says her mom has an entire room set up in their Texas home with trophies and various other awards from her and her sister’s storied prep and collegiate careers.
The most prominently displayed, though -- among Naismith, McDonald’s, Gatorade and USA Today national honors -- are her gold medals from 2008 and 2009 as well as a bronze from the 2007 YDF.
“I’ve been to three Final Fours,” Ogwumike says, “and that’s really great, obviously. But (USA Basketball) is definitely on the top of my shelf with a lot of the experiences I’ve had, and I want to make this one of the best by winning another gold.”
“It’s an amazing honor being able to represent your country,” Diggins says. “There’s a great sense of pride knowing that of all the women in college basketball they picked us 12 to come out here and represent. It would have been a great honor to win a national championship for us at Notre Dame, but winning the gold in China would definitely -- easily -- rank above that. We’re going to win one.”