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Chiney's the real deal ... but still has a lot to learn

New York

It is with slight exaggeration, this suggestion that last summer's barf-o-rama with the Connecticut Sun was all worth it now that Chiney Ogwumike is here. Note the word "slight."

That's because she is a perpetual spectacle of happiness and inclusiveness, all while earning hosannas about her game, like a comparison to the great Tamika Catchings.

And she'll be a daughter of Sun for the foreseeable future.

This was the kind of day, New York on Sunday, Ogwumike will remember, perhaps when she's hoisting a championship trophy, or a Rookie of the Year plaque or waving to the appreciative crowd after she wins the Most Valuable Player. This was a day of edification and education as only the road in the WNBA can teach.

She finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds in the Sun's 67-65 loss to New York. And yet two plays late in the game suggest she's still a rookie.

Play I: Ogwumike was called for a Flagrant 1 foul. Definition: "if contact committed against a player, with or without the ball, is interpreted to be unnecessary, a flagrant foul-penalty 1 will be assessed," per WNBA rules. (A Flagrant II warrants an ejection).

Ogwumike went for an offensive rebound and apparently made contact with DeLisha Milton-Jones' face. Milton-Jones made one of free throws - a point, it turned out, the Liberty needed badly.

"It was nothing but an accident, but she connected," Sun coach Anne Donovan said.

After the game, Ogwumike, armed with her sense of humor that is her constant companion, said, "Can I plead the fifth?"

Later, she said, "I definitely hit her in the face. But I would never intentionally hit someone in the face. I'm not that type of player. Look at the replay and maybe set it a few seconds before. ... I'm fighting for a rebound and accidentally hit her face."

Given Ogwumike's personality and reputation - and given that Milton-Jones' nickname "D-Nasty" is well earned - the league ought to look at the play again. Put it this way: It wouldn't have been the first call Roy Gulbeyan, Billy Smith and Maj Forsberg got wrong Sunday.

Milton-Jones is better at subtlety than Ogwumike. It's not the last time Ogwumike will get out-veteraned by a veteran.

"I think that's a fine. Oh my God I can't afford that right now, literally," Ogwumike said. "I'm a rookie."

Later in the fourth quarter, Ogwumike grabbed a defensive rebound after Anna Cruz missed a three-pointer with 31 seconds left. Donovan wanted a timeout. But Ogwumike passed the ball to Katie Douglas first and Douglas called timeout. WNBA rules don't allow teams to advance the ball and inbound from midcourt once a pass is made after a rebound.

Hence, for the Sun to begin their last sequence from midcourt, Donovan had to call a second timeout. The Sun had none left after that. They had to go fullcourt with 1.9 seconds left for a desperation shot. A timeout would have allowed them to run a play from midcourt.

"I was trying to call timeout as Chiney was in the act of passing," Douglas said. "Unfortunate. But, you know, I could have hit a lot more shots. A lot of people want to focus on the last play. Obviously, we didn't execute what Anne wanted. But it comes down to multiple plays throughout the game."

An argument could be made that Donovan didn't need to call that second timeout, given that going fullcourt isn't so significant with 30 seconds left. Ogwumike, next time, will be more mindful in a close game thinking that a timeout might be coming once the Sun gain possession.

Still a rookie. But a keeper.

"It's her mentality. She's a sponge," Donovan said. "She wants to learn and wants to be coached. She doesn't know it all and doesn't pretend to know it all. Just that kind of kid. None of her resume matters to her. It's what she does today."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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