One Nnek Of A Year
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Just 11 months ago, Nneka Ogwumike was playing for Stanford and preparing to play in her fourth consecutive Final Four.
Since then, the L.A. Sparks forward who’s currently starring half a world away for CCC Polkowice in Poland during the WNBA offseason, has been living in fast-forward.
“The transitions have been quick and I’ve had to really get used to a different type of lifestyle so quickly,” Ogwumike said. “But it’s been so much fun going from playing my senior year, playing in the Final Four, then going straight to L.A. to play for the Sparks, then going straight from L.A. to Poland.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind.”
In this highly compressed year, Ogwumike’s accomplishments are staggering. NCAA First-Team All-American. No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft. WNBA Rookie of the Year. Several Eurobasket.com Player of the Week awards.
All the while, it may be easy to forget that the 22-year-old's been making the transition that all college graduates have to after leaving the comfy confines of their college campuses -- from being a student to being a professional.
“Now it’s just so weird because it’s like, OK, they’re paying you to do something that I’ve been doing for 10 years,” Ogwumike said. “It’s odd to think of this as my job, really, when I just go to practice, I play, I go to games. At the same time, you also have to realize that without the organized system that the university level provides, you have to do a lot of things on your own that you don’t realize you have to do. You’re more of a professional now in so many ways.”
Ogwumike admits playing on the payroll carries a little “extra pressure”, but that she doesn't let that get to her. Instead, she focuses on the parts of the game that she loves.
While her basketball future is obviously bright -- she’s averaging 18.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and is shooting 55.8 percent from the floor in Poland -- Ogwumike’s experiences this year have opened her eyes to other avenues away from the court that she'd like to pursue both during and after her playing career.
“I definitely want to get a Master’s in Business and so that’ll be some work to do while I’m overseas,” Ogwumike said. “Ultimately I definitely want to be involved in sports, maybe more so on the public relations end of things, but I’ve also expressed a little interest in being an analyst and understanding in-studio type experiences, so I’m just trying to figure out where I’d fit in, what I’d be good at, or what I’m willing to work on to be better at.”
Judging by her pedigree, there doesn't appear to be much she can’t do. And if her Stanford degree is any indication, her success off the court should rival that of hers on it.
“I’m playing a little bit of three, so my ball handling is getting a little better,” Ogwumike said. “I have more confidence with my outside shot and that is definitely allowing me the opportunity to work on my game and expand myself from the post to the perimeter. I’m working hard every day and when you get to not just practice those types of moves or skills in practice, but also in the games, it really helps.”
Ogwumike is hoping that the evolution in her game that’s started to take place in Poland will carry over to Los Angeles.
“I want to be more of a threat for (the Sparks) as we come back and I think I’m doing well at learning to expand my game over here,” Ogwumike said. “You get a lot of time to work on your game when you’re overseas. “
Before jetting to Poland, Ogwumike credited veterans like Candace Parker, Alana Beard and DeLisha Milton Jones for helping her during her rookie season, a campaign where she averaged 14.0 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field. She claims her rookie year, despite facing lofty expectations from both herself and her teammates, “could not have gone better.” Ogwumike also believes the Sparks are liable to improve off of last season's "re-modeling year" where the team went 24-10 record and lost in the Western Conference Finals after experiencing a substantial amount of roster turnover and adjusting to a new head coach.
“It was really eye-opening to be able to be a part of that success and to be able to look ahead and think, you know, that the future for this team is very bright,” Ogwumike said.
The same can be said for Ogwukmike, both on and off the court.