UNCASVILLE — One of the great ironies for the Connecticut Sun this season, which concludes Friday (Washington) and Sunday (Atlanta) at the Mohegan Sun Arena, is the team will finish out the playoffs again despite having the WNBA's likely rookie of year.
Chiney Ogwumike, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft from Stanford, has not only had a great impact on the Sun (12-20), but has played her way into an invitation to USA Basketball's national team training camp beginning Sept. 8 at the U.S. Naval Academy.
"Chiney has tremendous potential to have an impact internationally with the national team," said Sun coach Anne Donovan, head coach of the 2008 Olympic team that won gold in China. "You look at her; I originally thought the physicality for the WNBA might take a toll on her. But I remember Tara VanDerveer [Stanford's Hall of Fame coach] calling Chiney a street fighter when we spoke pre-draft. She is every bit of that. She is stronger than she looks and with the exception of Lauren Jackson [whom Donovan coached in Seattle] tougher than any post player I've coached. She can take a hit and get herself back up."
Ogwumike, the league's rookie of the month in May and June, had scored in double-figures in 12 straight games (and 27 of her first 28) until she was held to nine in Sunday's double-overtime win over the Mystics. But there was an explanation.
The forward was returning to action after missing two games with an abscessed tooth. And then during Sunday's game, she was drilled in the neck by an elbow from Washington's Kia Vaughn that led to a one-game league suspension for Vaughn.
Both Ogwumike and Sun coach Anne Donovan expect she will be back at near full strength Friday against Washington (15-17), which has lost two straight and is still fighting for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Ogwumike, who joined Katie Douglas on the all-star team this season, already has 13 double-doubles and leads all rookies in rebounds (8.6). Tulsa's Odyssey Sims (16.1), the second overall pick from Baylor, just surpassed her in scoring.
Once the season is over, and before she reports to USA Basketball camp and her Italian winter league team on Oct. 1, Ogwumike will be heading to Los Angeles to spend time with her sister, Nneka, who will be in the postseason with the Sparks.
"I'm going to support her as much as I can," Chiney said. "I don't know how many of my family members are going to be able to get out there, so I feel it's the right thing to do."
Chiney Ogwumike said Thursday she is thrilled to be asked to try out for the 2014 World Championship team. She hasn't played USA Basketball since the summer before her junior season in 2012 when she helped the 3x3 team win a gold medal in Greece along with former UConn All-American Bria Hartley (now a rookie with Washington), Skylar Diggins and former UConn standout Ann Strother.
"I feel so fortunate, as a relatively young player, to be brought back into the player pool," Chiney said. "I might be around for a long time and then again I might not. It would be fun to be there for the game in Bridgeport [Sept. 15 vs. Canada] because I consider myself a Connecticut girl by now. Have I been adopted yet? I hope so."
In time, USA Basketball will be forced to make over a roster now dominated by future Hall of Famers Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings. Perhaps a number of spots on the 12-man roster Geno Auriemma brings to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics will be open for new players like her.
"You always need to be ready, just in case they call for you," she said.
Ogwumike said she has enjoyed her first season with the Sun, and even though she does not play in a big city, that is fine with her. In fact, the WNBA will be honoring the Ogwumike sisters before Friday's game for their work within their communities.
"It's not about the surroundings," Ogwumike said. "This area is just as passionate about basketball as you could want. I thrive around passionate people. That's the way there were at Stanford, and that's how they are here. This is like home now."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun