Family and Basketball Inseparable for USA National Team Forward Nneka Ogwumike
All four Ogwumike sisters played college basketball, with Nneka and Chiney reaching the WNBA.
USA Basketball forward Nneka Ogwumike’s parents, Ify and Peter, were born in Nigeria, and then eventually moved to the United States. They were not basketball players — Ify is a school superintendent and Peter is a technology consultant — but their U.S.-born children got into the game while growing up in Texas.
“We’re a basketball family, for sure,” Nneka, 29, said of herself and three sisters. “We just kind of found something that we all loved doing, and we all loved participating in as a family. It was always kind of like a weekend affair with the AAU tournaments and such. We all just kind of grew to love the game together.
“We just found it as a hobby as kids, and we ended up getting good at it. All playing on our teams and getting scholarships and now we’re here.”
Both Ogwumike and her sister Chiney, who is about two years younger, attended Stanford University, where Nneka helped the team reach four Final Fours with Chiney playing in three of them. The sisters both became No. 1 picks in the WNBA Draft, with Nneka being selected by the Los Angeles Sparks in 2012 and Chiney by the Connecticut Sun in 2014.
Their two younger sisters, Olivia and Erica, both played at Pepperdine University before transferring to Rice University.
A 6-foot-2 power forward, Nneka — whose full name is Nnemkadi — also has played many times with USA Basketball and won four gold medals. Her first gold was at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Thailand in 2009, where she earned tournament MVP honors, followed by the World University Games in China in 2011 and the FIBA World Cups in Turkey in 2014 and Spain in 2018.
“Definitely winning world championships, those are always memorized,” she said. “I played at the one at Istanbul in 2014 and Tenerife (Spain) in 2018 last year. But my personal favorite was the World University Games. It definitely kind of emulated the Olympics in a lot of ways. You have the opening ceremony, and then you’re playing against so many different countries and able to watch so many different sports. There was a lot of Stanford representation at that as well. It was a really great experience.”
Ogwumike also has committed, along with seven national team teammates, to participate in USA Basketball’s expanded training program leading up to the 2020 Olympic Games, which tips off Nov. 2 against her alma mater. Ogwumike is thrilled for the opportunity to represent her country once again.
“It’s great, obviously, it’s always an honor to be a part of it, to be asked to participate in anything USA Basketball,” she said. “I think a lot of people who maybe haven’t had the opportunity to play with the national team always have that as an aspiration. I know that I’ve had my long kind of tenure with USA Basketball, so another opportunity to play and represent the country is obviously a great one.”
And Ogwumike also is hoping to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team and will certainly be a strong contender for the roster given her WNBA accomplishments and previous World Cup titles.
“I think I’m on the right track being selected to be on this traveling team,” she said. “It is no guarantee that I’m on it, but it certainly is putting me on the right track to be able to be in one of my dreams.”
Ogwumike has been an exceptional player with the Sparks, making a WNBA All-Star Team six times and also winning the WNBA MVP award in 2016, the same year she led Los Angeles to the league championship title.
“I was more concerned about the championship,” she said of the award. “Winning the MVP was obviously amazing, but that championship was really the kicker for me.”
Just as importantly as her playing ability, she also is the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (sister Chiney is one of the vice presidents, along with U.S. teammates Sue Bird and Elena Delle Donne).
“Coming into the league I was a player representative, and then I became a vice president on the executive committee, and then with the retiring of many of the former executive committee, I kind of assumed the role a little bit,” she said. “And more responsibility came with the role. So, I was really happy to represent these phenomenal women in that regard. With that, I want to leave a legacy of progress and empowerment for WNBA players, aspiring WNBA players and women in sports and just women in the world.”
Ogwumike also has played internationally during the WNBA offseason, for teams in Poland and Russia. She turned 29 in July and isn’t sure how many more seasons she will play yet.
“I’m not sure if I’ll play another 10 years but maybe around five more,” she said. “After basketball, I see myself in a leadership role, maybe a leadership management role. I can’t give you an exact type of job, but I find myself still being very involved in sports and women leadership.”
In the meantime, she and her sister are back playing together as they did at home and Stanford. After competing against each other a couple seasons in the WNBA, they now both play for the Sparks since Chiney was traded to Los Angeles in April. It is a return to the “basketball family.”
“It’s great,” Nneka said. “I was obviously able to play with Chiney at Stanford and to be able to play with her at a professional level is also great, to kind of rekindle that familiarity that we had growing up.”