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Chiney Ogwumike’s Road To All-Star Return

MINNEAPOLIS – In the span of three years, Chiney Ogwumike suffered two season-ending injuries that have severely altered and sometimes ended the careers of many basketball players.

On Saturday afternoon, she’ll play in her second WNBA All-Star Game as a member of Team Parker. How did she get here? Let’s begin with a look back.

Here’s a quick timeline:

2014: No. 1 overall draft pick in WNBA Draft, WNBA Rookie of the Year, WNBA All-Star
15.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 53.6 FG%, 29.7 MPG, 31 GP (all starts)

2015: Micro-fracture surgery on right knee, missed entire season

2016: AP WNBA Comeback Player of the Year
12.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 58.7 FG%, 24.3 MPG, 33 GP (18 starts)

2017: Torn left Achilles tendon, missed entire season

2018: WNBA All-Star, full-time ESPN basketball analyst
14.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 60.7 FG%, 25.8 MPG, 25 GP (25 starts)

“I didn’t have any expectations to be an All-Star,” Ogwumike said Friday before All-Star practice. “Really my goal was just to be on the court and be what my team needed me to be and to prove that I could still do it.

“So when [WNBA President] Lisa Borders called me and said ‘Chiney, you’ve been selected an All-Star,’ I was like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’

“I came into the season just trying to touch the court, because a lot times people say ‘Achilles injury, knee injury, it’s over.’ I just wanted to prove that there’s a power to positivity, there’s a power to still working hard and when you surround yourself with believers and achievers, anything is possible.”

In order to get to Saturday’s game in Minneapolis, Ogwumike used that positive attitude to push through countless long days of rehabilitation in Connecticut. And if recovering from the second devastating injury of her young basketball career wasn’t enough, Ogwumike was simultaneously laying the groundwork for her second career. Not just preparing for life after basketball, but creating a unique path that allows her to do both, full-time, at the same time.

“If I want to not have to go overseas to play basketball, maybe I can find a career that will support me and allow me to talk basketball, maybe they’ve value having a young, diverse woman talking about the NBA, will sports fans understand that, will they aggregate for that?” said Ogwumike. “So I started trying to create my own lane and fortunately playing for the Connecticut Sun allows that to happen because ESPN is in your backyard.

“But it was so hard. I was literally working out three times a day, whether it was rehab, conditioning, lifting, on the court. And then on top of that, getting up at 5 a.m., going to ESPN, being prepared, talking about the NBA, talking about women’s sports issues, or anything else thrown my way. It was a long day! And it was consecutive. It’s funny, most people playing overseas had a break and came home. I didn’t even come home and I was in the States.”

While the days were long and grueling, the work she put in paid off beautifully. In May, ESPN announced that they reached a multi-year agreement with Ogwumike to make her a full-time multi-platform basketball analyst. She can be seen talking hoops on SportsCenter, The Jump, Get Up and SportsNation and can be heard as part of The Hoop Collective podcast crew.

Similar to Becky Hammon shadowing the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff while she was out for the 2013 Silver Stars season with a knee injury, which led to an assistant coaching position, Ogwumike sees the silver lining to her circumstances.

“Without my injuries I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Ogwumike. “I could have been playing for five or six years overseas and having great experiences, but would I have been happier than fighting back and knowing that I’m a stronger person for going through it and then also building another career?”

Less than three weeks after that announcement by ESPN, Ogwumike made her season debut for the Sun. She played just 17 minutes, tallying nine points and four rebounds in her first WNBA game in 610 days. While her initial goal to get back on the court was fulfilled, soon the Sun would call upon her to provide more.

“To be thrust upon a lot of responsibilities so early in the season based on our team missing players and just trying to find a stable core, I was surprised,” said Ogwumike.

At the All-Star break, Ogwumike leads the Sun in scoring (14.5 points per game) and field goal percentage (60.7%, 2nd in WNBA), ranks second in rebounds (7.4), blocks (0.6) and steals (1.0), while playing the second-most total minutes on the team (645).

Connecticut currently sits in eighth place in the crowded WNBA standings. With just one game separating the five teams seeded Nos. 4-8, the Sun find themselves in a battle to secure their second straight playoff berth. But to do so, they’ll need to continue to lean on their lone All-Star this season.

But the playoff push doesn’t begin until Wednesday when the Sun host the Liberty on NBA TV. Until then, it is time for Ogwumike to enjoy her All-Star experience and appreciate the road she traveled to get here.

“I attacked every day this past year during this comeback season to the best of my abilities and it just shows that hard work pays off,” said Ogwumike. “So to be here at All-Star I’m like this has got to be a joke, you know, because not too long ago, six months ago, I was fighting to get back, fighting to walk, to run, to jump, to leap, so this is absolutely surreal.”