STANFORD (AP) – By now, Chiney Ogwumike is well accustomed to being bossed around by her big sister. It’s been going on for years.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike can be downright demanding, especially on the basketball court. It’s understandable: She is the oldest of four girls and now a veteran of two Final Fours with Stanford.READ MORE: UPDATE: Atmospheric River Crashes Onshore; Driving Rains, Gusty Winds, Flash Flood Fears
Chiney is a freshman still finding her way in the college game for the Cardinal, though much more quickly than even coach Tara VanDerveer envisioned. She eagerly accepts the criticism and strong words from her sister, knowing it is meant only out of love and to help her improve.
It’s those around them who can be shocked by it all. Like senior Kayla Pedersen.
“She’ll be like: ‘Chiney! Kayla’s open! Why didn’t you pass the ball? Are you serious? Come on now,”’ Chiney said of the regular heat she takes from her sister. “In my head I’ll reappraise it as, ‘Well, I should have had my head up and I should have passed Kayla the ball.’ It’s just funny hearing that, or she’ll say: ‘Come on, Chiney, you’ve got to run faster. You’ve got to keep up with us!’ She won’t tell anyone else that, but she’ll tell me. The coaches will say, ‘Man, she’s hard on her sister.’ I think anyone would want to have someone being hard on them, because she is helping me.”
They are plenty competitive, too. It’s been a while since they played one-on-one back home.
“I’m faster,” big sister said. “I’m not saying that just because I’m the oldest. I am faster. She’s more skilled, though. Chiney is more of a finesse player. In terms of athleticism, I’m getting this from my father, looking at us I’m way more athletic than she is. But she is more skillful than I am.”
At least they are playing different positions—each bringing her own unique strengths for No. 3 Stanford, which opens another tough preseason at home Sunday against Rutgers.
Chiney led the Cardinal with 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting and eight rebounds in their final exhibition game Monday night, a 100-52 romp over San Diego.
The elder Ogwumike—who goes by her shortened first name of “Nneka”—leaps high above opponents to pull down rebounds, or makes explosive drives to the basket. Chiney is more one to spot up from the perimeter and knock down shots.
“If you had a $100 bill on the end line, I bet Nneka would get it,” VanDerveer said of the siblings.
Not so fast, coach. Chiney has something to say about that. So does her mother.
“That makes sense in a way, but if you really knew me I’d probably get the $100 bill because it’s a $100 bill,” Chiney said before a recent practice. “Then Nneka would win any other race. I’m motivated. If it’s $100, no playing around.”
Ify Ogwumike agrees. She and her husband, Peter, emigrated to the United States nearly three decades ago from their native Nigeria to attend college.
“Chiney would win that race hands down. I think Tara’s off on that,” Ify Ogwumike said in a phone interview from Texas. “Because of the $100. Nneka would win it if she wanted to, but Chiney would put in extra effort because of the money.”
Their daughters have sure made them proud. It’s especially nice that Chiney followed her sister to Stanford, rather than picking Connecticut, her No. 2 choice.
There are two younger sisters — 14-year-old Olivia and 13-year-old Erica—who also play volleyball and basketball. The two older Ogwumikes try not to put too much pressure on the girls at this stage, but still do their share of coaching.
Nneka began speaking up more on the court last season, taking pride in her role as a captain.
A second-team All-America pick and Pac-10 Player of the Year, she averaged 18.5 points and 9.9 rebounds as a sophomore.READ MORE: Atmospheric River: PG&E Crews Respond to Widespread North Bay Outages
“She’s definitely matured since the last time I played with her,” Chiney said. “It’s different playing with her now but I have someone I can look to on the court to get immediate feedback and get better.”
Nneka won a state basketball title her senior season playing alongside Chiney. She reached the state semifinals in volleyball. She was senior class president and homecoming queen. Not to mention a fundraising leader to help the family of a Texas high school coach in Houston who died of leukemia, and organizer of a run-a-thon to help children in Darfur.
She’s also a former gymnast, and can still perform a back flip— not that she’s doing so. Ogwumike gave up the sport at age 11 when she got too tall.
Her 6-foot-3 little sister, taller by an inch, was the consensus top recruit in the country out of Cy-Fair High in Cypress, Texas, leading her team to a state title as a senior. She plans to study law and business, or perhaps communications and Spanish.
This summer, Chiney led USA Basketball’s under-18 national team in scoring on the way to gold at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. After that, she showed up at Stanford early to begin working out and also took two summer school classes to get ahead in her studies.
Chiney can play either post or wing, impressing her coaches in her ability to handle multiple positions right away at this level.
Both young women are known for their intensity on the court. In a 116-65 exhibition victory over Vanguard last weekend, guard Jeanette Pohlen repeatedly hollered Nneka’s name when it was Chiney on the court. Her sister didn’t play in order to rest a tender ankle. The mix-ups happen a lot around campus, too—though Chiney has taken to either answering as Nneka or just responding “wrong one.”
“I find myself in the middle,” Pedersen joked of the sibling rivalry. “Nneka’s very direct with Chiney. It’s entertaining.”
Yet the sisters watch out for each other. Chiney recently called home and told her mom she was ill and Nneka was taking care of her — serving tea and soup.
“I’m very excited and very relieved that they both have each other,” Ify Ogwumike said. “It makes my life easier.”
Both Ogwumikes know there is unfinished business on The Farm. Stanford has been to three straight Final Fours and twice lost the championship game. Before Pedersen, a senior, and Nneka are done, they would like to win it all again for a program that believes it needs to take that step.
Stanford went 36-2 last season and lost 53-47 to UConn in the NCAA final after leading 20-12 at halftime. The Huskies won their record 78th straight game to complete back-to-back unbeaten seasons.
The Cardinal’s only two losses were to UConn. The Huskies visit Maples Pavilion on Dec. 30 in another highly anticipated non-conference matchup between the nation’s elite programs.
“I felt like we really missed an opportunity,” VanDerveer said of the championship loss. “Going to the Final Four, the more you go the more chances you have to win it.”
Through the successes and the near-misses, Stanford has become even closer off the court.
In fact, VanDerveer sometimes forgets the Ogwumikes are sisters at all.
“They all hang out with each other. In some ways what I really like about it, the way you see Nneka take her under her wing because she’s her sister, you want all of your upperclassmen to do that with all the freshmen—to really have a sisterhood on your team,” VanDerveer said. “It’s not just these two.”MORE NEWS: Evacuation Order Issued for San Mateo County Areas Burned by CZU Lightning Complex Fire
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