Erica Ogwumike may have first landed on your radar because of her older sisters, Chiney and Nneka.
Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve first knew Erica as the little sister who tagged along for her older sisters’ WNBA games and immersed herself in the league at a young age. Ogwumike’s familiarity with the league and its inner workings is something that intrigued Reeve and her staff as they negotiated a trade for the 5’9 guard in the third round of last week’s draft.
“I love that Erica clearly has been around the WNBA for a long time,” Reeve said. “A lot of college players don’t even watch the WNBA and they don’t even know any of these players. I like that Erica knows these players. I like that Erica probably watched the game where I called her sister the biggest flopper. I like all that.”
But Erica is so much more than just the little Ogwumike sister. She’s done a tremendous job of making that clear ever since her childhood days at Staples Center.
Ogwumike will be finishing up an anatomy class in the coming weeks as she awaits the day she can arrive in Minneapolis for training camp. The Lynx’s newest acquisition graduated from Rice University in May of 2019, but her current class is just “for fun.”
Anatomy. For fun.
Ogwumike played for the Owls as a graduate student in the 2019-20 season and spent her final year at Rice working in the president’s office, taking part in extracurricular activities and receiving acceptance letters from nine medical schools. Oh yeah, she also averaged a career 17.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the Owls (19.0 points and 10.3. rebounds last season) while preparing for med school.
“I won’t lie — it was hard,” said Ogwumike when asked about balancing life as a dedicated student-athlete. “(There were) multiple times where I thought I was crazy for doing it. It was just something like you have to go through trial and error to understand being at Rice University, it’s an excellent academic institution so I was always surrounded by students that pushed me to work harder and professors that knew I was capable of more even though I was an athlete. That was something that really encouraged me to continue doing something I’m passionate about as well.”
No one influenced Ogwumike’s interest in science and medicine. She’ll be the first of the Ogwumikes to pursue a medically-related field if she chooses to do so after her WNBA career. She was drawn to the field after inquiring with the Owls’ team physicians and finding out their work atmosphere was similar to the one she’d experienced on the court.
“I was like, ‘Hey, wait. They do teamwork, they communicate, they have leadership skills,’” said Ogwumike in Tuesday’s Zoom conference call. “It just felt like another team-type of atmosphere, and it felt like something I was really comfortable in.”
Chiney and Nneka both attended Stanford University, but despite it being an “excellent educational institution,” Erica chose a different path.
“I chose to go to Pepperdine, I chose to go to Rice,” Ogwumike said. “I did have offers from bigger schools, but I did choose to go to my schools because I thought it would be best for me in the long run to be able to go to a school where I can really be a true student-athlete and not have to hinder one passion for another.”
That’s not to say that her sisters aren’t also more than just basketball players. They’re both active in the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (Nneka serves as the association’s president), and Chiney signed a multi-year agreement with ESPN to become an analyst for the largest sports media conglomerate.
But Erica’s older sisters have always encouraged their younger sister to be herself and never take a backseat to themselves or anyone, for that matter.
“They always supported me since the beginning,” Erica said. “They never compared me to them, and they’ve just always been really supportive of anything that I’ve done. That also made it really easy to just be myself.”
But, even as she navigates her own path, she still carries some of her sisters’ best qualities.
At 5’9, Erica won’t be following in her sisters’ footsteps of playing the forward position, but that won’t keep her from racking up rebounds just like her sisters. Erica averaged over nine rebounds per game in all three years of her Rice career and partially credits her Ogwumike genes for her rebounding gift.
“I think it partially is genetics,” Ogwumike said. “I also think I learned in college of course timing comes into it; my sisters have taught me that, my coaches have taught me that, but it’s also just hard work and just going after it. I think once I realized that I was like, ‘No one can really stop me from getting this ball.’”
Seemingly few have gotten in Ogwumike’s way thus far. She knows making the Lynx’s roster will present unforeseen challenges and that she’ll need to become a more efficient shooter if she wants to make it in the league. But she’s ready for the task ahead and is confident in what she has to offer.
“I’ve watched my sisters prepare for it, I know what they had to do to get to that level — to physically get there and also mentally get there,” Ogwumike said. “So I think just having that knowledge is something that can probably help me in training camp when I’m trying to make a roster because being prepared is always something that makes people confident. Maybe I’ll be able to come into training camp with a bit more confidence because of that.”
I’ll be thrilled to cover Ogwumike’s rookie season if she earns a spot on the Lynx’s roster after training camp. But even if that doesn’t pan out, it’s safe to say we won’t be hearing the last of Erica Ogwumike anytime soon.