Ogwumike on the mend — and happy, of course
Mohegan — Chiney Ogwumike was asked after Thursday’s Connecticut Sun practice how rehab was going with her season-ending Achilles injury.
Ogwumike began a quick side-step dance.
“How’s that?,” Ogwumike asked with a smile.
It was the first time Ogwumike has attended a Sun practice since injuring the left tendon playing in China last November. The 2014 WNBA Rookie of the Year agreed to take a full season suspension, which freed up a roster spot so Connecticut could have the 12-woman maximum roster. The suspension prevents her from playing at all this season.
Ogwumike, a centerpiece to the team’s ongoing rebuilding process, was on one side of the Mohegan Sun Arena floor shooting Thursday.
The winless Sun were on the other side, practicing for Friday’s game against the Minnesota Lynx (4-0), the WNBA’s only unbeaten team, at 7 p.m.
The young Sun are 0-3 after another round of losses that could induce banging one’s head against the wall. They lost at Minnesota 80-78 on Tuesday.
It’s only natural to wonder, then, how much further along Connecticut would be in its rebuilding process with a healthy Ogwumike in the post.
“It’s hard not to think, 'could we be 3-0 if Chiney was here?’,” second-year Sun head coach Curt Miller said. "But you can’t live there. She’s not going to be here this year. ... And we’ve got to find ways without her.”
Ogwumike was her usual effervescent self Thursday. Her rehab is going well. Connecticut gave her a multiyear extension on April 22, the same day her contract was suspended. She’s about to start working at ESPN.
“It’s crazy," Ogwumike said. "I don’t want to say it sounds bad, but when I’ve slowed down, other doors have opened. I’m starting my new role at ESPN — they’re announcing it soon. … If I didn’t get injured, this probably would’ve never happened. And it stinks that I’m not playing, but I’m a religious person. God has said, ‘Hey — this is something else you can do while you’re on your journey.’
"Everything does happen for a reason, and I’m young. If I was 35, maybe I’d (retire). (I’m) 25. I liked 23 better, but I’m 25.”
The Sun missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season last year after a miserable start, but showed promise during the second half. They won 10 of their last 17 games, including an 8-4 finish.
Connecticut’s late success coincided with Ogwumike rounding back into form after missing 2015 because she needed micro-fracture surgery on her right knee. She averaged 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds in the Sun’s final 17 games. That included seven 20-point games and eight double-doubles.
Working at ESPN could supplement Ogwumike’s WNBA income during the offseason so that she that she doesn't have to play overseas. It’s what former Sun guard Kara Lawson did, which greatly cut back on the wear-and-tear women’s basketball players endure playing nearly year-round.
“I love basketball,” Ogwumike said. “Basketball is what I’ve been doing for, dang it, 15 years. Oh my God, I’m getting up there. It’s my first love, honestly. I won’t give it up. I’m going to keep trying. I’m young.”
And so the waiting continues. Ogwumike waits to come back. Connecticut awaits her return while exercising patience, looking at the long-term instead of immediate gains. It's one of the WNBA’s youngest teams. Its average age on opening day was 25, and five players are 23-and-under.
“Look at us — we’re happy,” Ogwumike said about the team. “We still snap back at Curt sometimes just for fun, just to keep him on his toes. We have to do that with Curt because he’s so tough and funny. But the air in here is so light in Mohegan, and I think it’s because we have the right people.
“We’ve built an atmosphere, a culture, that we can all be happy about and that I’m proud of. Now it’s just about basketball, figuring that (winning) out. … Dang, we have so much potential.”
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