Ogwumike A 'Team Mom' For Cardinal
By Kevin Danna
Around the country, Nnemkadi Ogwumike is known for being one of the most dominant players in women's college basketball. Around the conference, opponents recognize her as a perennial all-Pac-12 hooper.
But on the Stanford University campus, she is often referred to as the "team mom."
"I try my best to help everybody in whatever way I can," Ogwumike said. "As a senior, you have that wisdom that you can kind of pass down and you can help the youngsters, so I really try my best to do that, on and off the court."
She might not drive a minivan, but Ogwumike is first in line as a team taxi and always makes sure her younger teammates are well taken care of.
"Ever since I've stepped on this campus, Nneka has made every effort to make sure we freshmen had the things that we needed and could get to the places that we needed to be," said Jasmine Camp, a freshman guard. "She always gave me a ride to go get dinner or groceries whenever I needed it."
Of course, that's just one facet of Ogwumike's life as a Stanford senior. There's also the on-the-court part, where she averages better than 20 points and ten rebounds per contest. Governing the paint with her offensive rebound put-backs, gliding down the court gracefully in transition and thwarting opponents' hopes of getting buckets on the defensive end, it's no wonder Ogwumike has a laundry list of awards collected during her first three years.
The two-time All-American and former Pac-10 Player of the Year is once again up for the top honors, including the Wooden Award, which is given to the best player in college basketball. While she is humbled by the nomination and would love to win the award, it's not the first thing on her mind.
"Honestly, I haven't really been thinking about any of that. I'm just focusing on my team," Ogwumike said. "Granted, winning an award like that would be amazing…A lot of great players are on that list, and to just be nominated amongst those top 20 is really, really amazing."
Although Ogwumike made an instant impact and led the Pac-10 with a 63 percent shooting percentage as a freshman, she has matured significantly on the court during her time on The Farm. Perhaps the most enhanced aspect of her game is her basketball IQ.
"In high school, she could pretty much just go down there, jump up and catch it and score," Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. "In college, she had to develop some different moves and understanding of the game, and I think she has become a great student of the game."
Another feature Ogwumike improved is a high-arching mid-range jumper that has made her all the more difficult to defend when she catches it 18 feet out.
"She has a beautiful shot and a great arc on her shot, but her footwork was a little different," VanDerveer said. "I worked with her, but it's all her. She made the commitment to improving that and obviously you can see the dividends from the time she put into it."
That mid-range jumper was on full display earlier this season against the sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Volunteers. In front of a national television audience, Ogwumike played the best game of her career, scoring a career-high 42 points and grabbing 17 rebounds to help pace the Cardinal to a 97-80 victory over Tennessee.
"I just noticed myself having fun, and I really wanted to win that game," Ogwumike said. "I just came out and I played my hardest, and I think it was contagious because we had a lot of great plays from a lot of my teammates, and that's how it should be every game."
That win is a major reason why the Cardinal will get a high seed in the NCAA tournament and be projected to make a deep run in March. It is familiar territory for Ogwumike, whose Cardinal has made the Final Four each of her first three seasons. Coming up short every time, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Ogwumike wants nothing more than to win the national championship in her last go-around.
"When you're capable, that's always the goal. And with our history and our tradition, I want our young players to experience that, too," Ogwumike said. "Not to just experience going there, but also going all the way."
The Stanford women's basketball program has a veteran secretary who does a great job of taking care of all the team's postseason travel needs.