Rookie of the Year Ogwumike ‘freakishly athletic’
By Charles Hallman
More often than not, if you are a pro rookie in your first professional season, and if you were the top overall selection in the draft, either you’re expected to be THE man if it’s the NBA or THE woman if it’s the WNBA.
Los Angeles Sparks forward Neeka Ogwumike, who led all WNBA rookies in points and rebounds, was named Rookie of the Year on Sunday. It marked the fifth straight year that the league’s number-one pick also won the award at season’s end. Also, Ogwumike, who got all but two of the 41 votes cast, is the fifth consecutive Black female to win the award.
“She knows the value of playing on a team where she doesn’t have to carry the burden, and does exactly what she should be doing,” notes Sparks Assistant Coach Jim Lewis of the 6-2 Ogwumike, who was picked first by Los Angeles this past spring. “I think she has shown a unique maturity for a first-year player, playing a major role. It’s a perfect situation for her to be in.”
Lewis admits that what ultimately caught him by surprise was “how freakishly athletic she was — we’re talking highlight reel. We play against some real good male practice players, and she’ll make a tip-in or an explosive, leaping-out-of-nowhere [play]. Her arms are 40-something (inches in length). She is just a freak athlete, a special talent.”
Ogwumike told the MSR last week that it wasn’t until near the end of her final season at Stanford that she finally realized that a pro basketball career was indeed next for her. “To see myself now [in the WNBA]…it’s been great, better than what I expected,” she admits.
“She is one of the great young women, period,” continues Lewis on Ogwumike. “We’re talking about a great, first-class, brilliant graduate of Stanford from a great Nigerian family that always held her to high standards.”
Her father was in town last week and watched his daughter play in her first Western Conference finals — Los Angeles lost the series 2-0 to Minnesota. “He flew in from Nigeria. He works over there [as a businessman] the majority of the year,” revealed Lewis.
Ogwumike plans to play in Poland in the off-season. Lewis believes that playing there will make her even better, especially becoming more comfortable driving to the basket and improving her face-up game. “Her offensive game needs to continue to grow and diversify,” says the assistant coach, who also wants Ogwumike to become “the consummate high-post player.”
Ogwumike agrees: “I am looking forward to getting better overseas.”
She also is a quick study, Lewis notes. “She listens to the veteran players and the coaches. She learns from her opposition — she already zeroes in on [Tamika] Catchings just by competing against her and watching her as the player who has taught her the most.
“She will be an all-star, if not next year,” he predicts.
“I’ve been trying to get better at understanding the game from different perspectives and not just focus as a post,” concludes Ogwumike. “I want to be able to be utilized everywhere possible.”
Quickie playoffs report
“I’ve been to a lot of games. I think every game has been very good and very competitive,” reports WNBA Director of Player Personnel Renee Brown. “Once you hit the playoffs, it really is the best of the best.”
Says Lynx guard Seimone Augustus as her club opens Game One of the 2012 WNBA Finals at home Sunday, “If you want to win a championship, you have to come through here.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokes man-recorder.com.