2017 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament: Stanford alum Chiney Ogwumike returns to KeyArena, impressed by deep conference
SEATTLE -- For the first time since 2014, Chiney Ogwumike is back in KeyArena for the Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament.
“It’s sort of surreal to be back at the tournament,” she said in between games on Thursday. “I’ve had so many memories here, and now I’m also creating more memories.”
Some of the memories are happy ones; Ogwumike led Stanford to three conference titles on the floor of KeyArena. Some of them, however, are a little tougher to think about. But that doesn’t stop her from reflecting on her time here with fondness.
“This court means a lot. It sucks because my last game here was a loss, but when I come back here during the WNBA season, I have the memories. And I think Kelsey will think the same.”
The Kelsey she’s referring to is, of course, Washington’s Kelsey Plum, the recently crowned NCAA women’s basketball all-time leading scorer.
Plum and the Huskies are poised to make a serious run in both the Pac-12 and the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll have some stiff competition in the conference. The Conference of Champions is currently No. 1 in the country in RPI and has four teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll.
“The RPI does not lie,” Ogwumike laughs.
“When I played, it was sort of the turning point for the conference where things were getting competitive, and there were many teams fighting for the top spot. To see what recognition Kelsey is getting is great, but I sometimes want to say, ‘Man, this girl has been great since her freshman year!’”
Ogwumike, who plays for the Connecticut Suns in the WNBA and was an All-American at Stanford, is thrilled to see women’s basketball get the love it deserves, especially on the West Coast.
“People have slept on [the Pac-12], literally, because we’re on the West Coast," explained Ogwumike. "I think the [Pac-12] Network has done not only a great job of picking up so many games of ours, but they also digitally created an area where you can see a highlight from Kelsey Plum at any time, anywhere, and it lives on the internet so that everyone can see her greatness.
"You don’t have to stay up and watch a game on the West Coast, but you can tune in and see these cool things that each school and the Network has been producing.”
For her part, Ogwumike has done a lot to help get the conference to the high level it’s currently at, taking Stanford to three Final Fours in her four years on The Farm. She also went No. 1 in the 2014 WNBA draft.
She’s looking forward to seeing the talent on the court this year at the tournament. When asked who she’s most excited to watch, Ogwumike has some girls in mind.
“I always refer to these three players - Erica [McCall], because that’s my freshman from Stanford; Kristine [Anigwe], because I learned about her last year covering her game, and she’s used me as a mentor, which is really neat…and Kelsey because I played against her. Her team beat my team her freshman year, and I thought, ‘dang, this freshman is good.’”
At the end of the day (and tournament), Ogwumike says that the Pac-12 is a close-knit group, and the tourney is a special place. And she passes along some advice for the players.
“Don’t underestimate yourself. The conference is deep, but if you give it your all, anything is possible. We’re in a conference where anybody can beat anybody, so just give your best and let the chips fall where they may.”