Ogwumike named WNBA Rookie of the Year
Mohegan - Her dad, Peter, flew in from Nigeria to be with the Connecticut Sun's Chiney Ogwumike on Thursday morning as she was named the 2014 WNBA Rookie of the Year at Mohegan Sun's Cabaret Theatre.
"Moments like this happen once in a lifetime," said Peter, who has a Nigeria-based technology company and travels often. "Everything they've gone through has been unexpected ... a shock and a surprise. There are a lot of other young ladies who play, too."
That the family doesn't take anything for granted is obvious. Both older sister Nneka Ogwumike, a member of the Los Angeles Sparks, and Chiney are both now Stanford graduates, No. 1 picks in the WNBA Draft - the only siblings to achieve that distinction in professional sports other than NFL quarterbacks Payton and Eli Manning - WNBA All-Stars, WNBA Rookies of the Year in their respective inaugural seasons and will soon be members of the U.S. National Team pool vying for positions on the world championship team.
And yet it's all still special, both Peter and Nneka, the 2012 Rookie of the Year, flying to be with Chiney on another big day.
"It doesn't work this way much any more in sports," Sun coach Anne Donovan said, nodding toward the Ogwumike sisters. "They're both in the spotlight, not because they're grabbing it, because they earned it.
"(Chiney) lights up the room. I've said it a dozen times: she's so genuine. And it's really true. She draws people in. It's easy to come to practice when she's our anchor. She's a pro every day; a lot of credit for that goes to Tara (VanDerveer, Stanford coach)."
A 6-foot-4 forward, Chiney Ogwumike led the Sun this season with 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. League-wide, she led all rookies in rebounds and double-doubles (13), was second in scoring and third in steals (1.2 per game).
She received 23 votes for Rookie of the Year from a national panel of 38 sportswriters and broadcasters who cast ballots for the award, followed by Odyssey Sims of Tulsa (12) and Kayla McBride of San Antonio (2).
Presented the honor by WNBA commissioner Laurel Richie, Ogwumike also received $5,000 and a specially designed trophy from Tiffany & Company.
It was announced that Ogwumike, Sims and McBride were joined on the league's All-Rookie Team by Bria Hartley of the Washington Mystics and Alyssa Thomas of the Sun.
"I'm so humbled, so humbled. It's been a wonderful journey for me as a rookie," Ogwumike said. "It's been a dream come true for me. ... If there was a moment I wasn't nervous, I'd tell you about it. I was nervous, but I think I did a decent job masking it.
"For Nneka and I both to be rookies of the year ... she planted the seed on my mind. She was the No. 1 draft pick and I thought, 'Hey, maybe I could do that, too.' She was the Rookie of the Year and I thought, 'Hey, maybe I could do that, too.'"
In addition to her sister, Ogwumike said her role model in the league is Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever.
"And Becky Hammon (retiring from the San Antonio Stars) and other trail-blazers. That's what I aspire to," Ogwumike said. "I'm excited to be a part of it."
Richie mentioned the fact that Ogwumike was drafted at Mohegan Sun Arena and the local crowd erupted.
"They were charmed by her infectious smile," Richie said. "We were off to the races."
Donovan said it might have been hard for a West Coast kid to come to Connecticut and win over the fans. Not Ogwumike.
"When you have this talent and this personality, it became easy to fall in love with this kid. She's one of the finest individuals I've ever been around," said Donovan, who added that at no point was Ogwumike content to rest on her past accomplishments. "She just wanted to build her resume going forward. That's what separates the good from the great."
The Sun were 13-21 this season with a young team, but Donovan said it's easy to look forward with a player like Ogwumike on the roster.
"We're in good shape here in Connecticut," she said.
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