Sun rookie Anigwe far beyond driven

Mohegan — Everyone’s life and personality is shaped by others.

Connecticut Sun rookie Kristine Anigwe is the sum of her influences, namely her parents, siblings and coaches, and she’s perhaps more mindful of her inspirations than most.

“There’s just a lot of really inspirational people that I want to make proud,” Anigwe said during a Tuesday media luncheon. “The times I don’t want to be at the gym, I was just remembering my (older) brother (Chris), the sacrifices he made. My mom, the sacrifices she made. And even my siblings, the sacrifices they’ve made for me.

“I wanted to give back to them.”

The Sun drafted Anigwe with their first-round pick (ninth overall) in the recent WNBA draft. The University of California forward (she decided she was going there when she was 15) is one of four children, and her older brother, Chris, set the bar high for all of them.

“Since I was young, my mom would really push academics,” Anigwe said. “My brother was always, always studying. When he took his MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), he literally made a room downstairs (to study). I’d come back from workouts and he’d still be studying. I just remember how difficult it was for him, the sacrifices he made just to commit to studying, just to be commit to being the best in his profession, kind of made me want to be better.”

Chris is in his first year of med school at the University of San Francisco and hopes to become a surgeon.

“I’m like, ‘if he’s doing that much work academically, then I can invest that much work in basketball’,” Anigwe said. “He inspired me. And my mom got a PhD and wrote about Nigerian culture (her family is Nigerian).”

Anigwe, who stands 6-foot-4, went hard to raise her game after a disappointing junior year. She blew up her senior year as whe was the top rebounder in the country this season, men or women, with 533 in 33 games (16.2 rpg).

Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan, the third pick in April’s draft, was second with 487 rebounds in 36 games.

Anigwe was first in Division I in total rebounding rate (26.5 percent), the percentage of total rebound opportunities rebounded by a player, according to HerHoopStats.com. She also averaged 22.5 points, was named to the Associated Press All-America second team, and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year.

The Sun never expected Anigwe to be available at No. 9. Head coach/general manager Curt Miller thought for several weeks prior to the draft that she’d go fourth to the Chicago Sky.

“The one thing that we’ve really watched correlate from great college players to the pro game has been rebounding,” Miller said. “She’ll be the first to admit that the Xs and the Os of the game don’t always come immediately to her. She has to study. She has to understand the opponents and get in to the scouting reports, but we believe from day one that her work ethic, her relentless activity on the court. … there’s a physicality that’s hard to teach.”

The Sun coaching staff found out firsthand how physical Anigwe is during a workout on Monday.

“I feared for my coaches,” Miller joked. “'Please. This is the first day. Don’t hurt my coaches on the first day.’

“Right now, my fear is that she’ll lead the league in fouls-per-minute, so we’ll have to get her to stop fouling a little bit. We will work on it. It’s much, much harder to teach physicality than it is to stop fouling.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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