Friendships have opened doors for Ogwumike
Talking — and socializing — come naturally to Chiney Ogwumike. The vivacious Connecticut Sun post can work a room like Beyoncé works a crowd. She's never at a loss for words.
A word one rarely hears Ogwumike say — “ no”.
“You know sometimes people are like. … ‘I don’t want to sign autographs. I don’t want to meet that person; I don’t want to talk to that person," Ogwumike said. "I’ve always said, ‘Yes’, since I was in high school to everything and to opportunities.
“What’s that quote — ‘luck is when preparation meets opportunity?’. It’s sort of like that. … Nothing is too small (for me). We attack it. Then we build a relationship, and then a door opens.”
The latest door to open for Ogwumike is a job co-hosting an edition of ESPN's SportsCenter produced for Kwesé, an African media company, that's shown across sub-Saharan Africa. ESPN made the announcement last Wednesday.
"We are incredibly excited to add somebody as talented, knowledgeable and passionate as Chiney to join the African edition of SportsCenter," Vice President and General Manager of ESPN EMEA Charly Classen said in a press release. "She brings a remarkable combination of deep, first-hand understanding of sport and a longtime connection to Africa."
Ogwumike, the 2014 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is out this season after needing surgery on her left Achilles last November. She signed a multi-year extension with the team in April.
Ogwumike is no stranger to ESPN or broadcasting. She was a guest host for ESPN’s “His & Hers” and “First Take” in the summer of 2015. She’s also worked as a women’s college basketball analyst for ESPN and the Pac-12 Network.
Broadcasting wasn’t the direction Ogwumike was steering towards earlier in her life (she majored in International Relations at Stanford). Life, and friends she’s made along the way, began leading her that way, however.
“Jenny Dial Creech, she works for the Houston Chronicle,” Ogwumike said. “She used to cover my sister (Nneka, of the Los Angeles Sparks) and my journey to states (playing for Cypress Fairbanks High School in Cypress, Texas). She was a really nice person. She’s a family friend. She sort of, I guess you could say, mentored me along the way because I was always asking her questions."
Ogwumike visited ESPN during her junior year at Stanford as part of the network’s ‘Car Wash’, in which players and coaches are interviewed on its many shows. It was there that she met, and became friends with, Lisa Stokes, ESPN's Director of Booking & Talent Productions.
“She is just an amazing person, and she treats anyone who walks into ESPN as family and tries to help out people with their careers,” Ogwumike said. “Next thing I know, because I built a relationship with her, she says, ‘Hey, we’re looking for females to host ‘First Take’ and ‘His & Hers’. Would you do it?’ Of course!. ... She’s the one who is opening the door for people like me.”
Ogwumike also got to know Allison Galer, founder of the Disrupt The Game agency. She represents Lisa Leslie, the former Los Angeles Sparks great, who, one day, talked with Chiney and Nneka and directed them towards Galer.
And so another relationship was born.
“We are hustlers,” Chiney Ogwumike laughed. “We always talk about how we hustle.”
Back to Stokes — she had told Ogwumike that ESPN had begun producing content for Kwesé. It was of great interest to Ogwumike, a Nigerian-American, and she offered her help if needed.
Stokes told ESPN’s international department about Ogwumike. They asked to meet with her last February. One meeting led to a second meeting. And then a third meeting in which they asked her to try a variety of anchoring duties.
“For about 10 minutes, I sat and tried to read over highlights,” Ogwumike said. “I basically did a mini-segment. I thought it was fun. They sent (a copy) to me.
“It was basically and audition where I didn’t even know it was an audition.”
Ogwumike began her new job last month. It’s flexible as she’ll co-host twice a week and work in other capacities across the network's various platforms. She’s not sure if it’ll keep her from playing overseas during the offseason,
“If the right opportunity comes up, that would be cool, but you can’t say no to these (ESPN’s) opportunities,” Ogwumike said. “I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.
“Doors have opened for me. It’s just sort of crazy.”
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