Ogwumike Interview: "Ice" Talks "Fire"

At 11:00 am PST on Thursday, The Bootleg had a unique opportunity to interview Stanford sophomore Nneka Ogwumike just before she was scheduled to surprise her equally-gifted sister Chiney [Chi-NAY ] with a very special announcement, via Skype Video, that the younger Ogwumike had been named the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Read on for Ice's take on Fire!

Ogwumike Interview: "Ice" Talks "Fire": 

At 11:00 am PST on Thursday, The Bootleg had a unique opportunity to interview Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike just before she was scheduled to surprise her equally-gifted sister Chiney Ogumike [Chi-NAY ] with a very special announcement, via Skype Video, that the younger Ogwumike has been named the "Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year."

The Bootleg: Wow, Nneka, are you kidding me? Chiney is being named the Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year! Your family is going to have to reinforce the family room mantle! That hardware has got to be getting heavy!

Nneka: Absolutely. My mom already kind of has a little room for me and now she has to include some for Chiney!

TB: So, their first two daughters have been named National Players of the Year and received full-ride athletic scholarships to Stanford University. On a scale of 1-12, how proud are mom "Ify" and dad "Peter"?

Nneka: Probably at about 500 million! I know they are very, very proud. I'm very proud of Chiney! Ever since I was awarded with this two years ago, she has been looking forward to it, working really hard. Even before that - she came into our high school program and brought a lot, brought us a state championship and got another one without my being there. Our team was amazing. It is very well-deserved, I would say that winning was definitely one of the highlights of my life, probably one of the biggest things that has ever happened to me.

TB: Until about two weeks from now, right?

Nneka: (Laughing) Right!

TB: Did either of your parents play basketball or was it all soccer in Nigeria?

Nneka: My dad was a soccer player. My mom was more of a cross country and track sprinter. Basketball was just something we stumbled into - we were gymnasts, actually. I think a lot of people have heard this story. We used to do gymnastics and we got too tall for that so we decided to take up basketball.

TB: Her high-profile recruitment, as the #1 high school prospect, came down to Connecticut, Notre Dame and Stanford and there were reports that she hadn't made up her mind until November. Did you "hope" or "know" she was coming to Palo Alto? Did you have to sweat out the recruiting process?

Nneka: Everybody was sweatin' it out. I was definitely hoping that she would make the decision. She said she loved it when she visited here. She was impressed with both UConn and Stanford, but she felt like Stanford was the best choice for her and I am glad she decided to come over here.  

TB: The hesitation - was she thinking about "blazing her own trail" or maybe taking "The Road Less Traveled"?

Nneka: Yes, absolutely.

TB: You are two years apart in age. Sometimes, that can be dicey with sisters. How "close" are the two of you?

Nneka: We are pretty close. For the most part, we don't fight a lot. A lot of people find that actually quite surprising. We disagree in some aspects but not to the point where it causes anyone to feel ostracized. We get along. people enjoy us interacting together - it serves as some form of entertainment. I told Tara to watch out, she's going to have some fun next year.

TB: The Cardinal's 2010 recruiting class is ranked #4 in the country...Where does Chiney rank on your speed-dial?

Nneka: Uh.. pretty high! We have some really good freshmen coming in [5-10 Sacramento-area shooting guard] Sara James and [5-11 Chicago point guard] Toni Kokenis and I am really excited to see what they have to bring. I am not only excited about playing with Chiney - she is a very high prospect, so she can bring a lot to the program.

TB: We hard-core Cardinal hoops zealots have all seen Chiney on YouTube, absolutely "owning" people at the high school level. How should we view Cy-Fair's level of competition? 5A in Texas has got to be very strong, no?

Nneka: Very strong. Even the District games weren't easy to come by. Coach Roubique does a really good job of scheduling preseason games. She likes playing "away" at hard schools. You can find competition anywhere in Houston.

TB: All those Cy-Creeks, Cy-Ridges, Cy-Lakes, Cy-Ranches, Cy-Borgs, those guys are all good?

Nneka: (Laughing) Yeah, back when I was in high school - all of those teams were good and you couldn't let your guard down. They did a very good job of preparing for the postseason.

TB: How much of your sister's success to date comes from "raw talent" and how much is "hard work"? It seems like the only "hard work" I see is by other teams trying to contain her!

Nneka: I think a lot of it is hard work. Chiney works hard to be the best and to do her best! At the same time, she is very skilled. She can do some things that I couldn't necessarily do and probably still can't. She can dribble very well, she is a very good leader on the court, she is very versatile. I think both of them come hand and hand. She is a very hard-worker, regardless of what she can do.

TB: How far is Chiney from reaching her full potential? Is there still some significant upside?

Nneka: I don't know, because when I left high school, I thought I had almost reached my full potential, but once you get to college, there is so much more room to grow. I don't think I am even near my own potential now and I am almost done with my second year. I think there is so much room for her to grow, which is kind of scary because she is already very talented. It is always fun to see how players germinate from high school into the college realm.

TB: In which specific areas do you think she can most improve? Can she get the job done from the stripe? Can she avoid foul trouble? Can she finish with her left?

Nneka: As far as I understand, maybe should could improve a bit from the stripe. Which isn't hard, it's not hard to do.

TB: Can she play through contact?

Nneka: Well, that probably might be one thing - she definitely likes drawing contact. She is an aggressive player. I think as far as growing, it has more to do with how she integrates herself into the college level of play. I am really excited to see how that will happen.

TB: How do you think she will fit into the Cardinal's triangle offense?

Nneka: Oh, she'll fit in just fine!

TB: What did the Lady Bobcats run?

Nneka: We ran plays. We ran a lot of plays in high school and I think our team did a really good job of executing them too. She is going to be coming into the infamous triangle offense and I think the good thing for her to do is to watch Kayla (junior forward Kayla Pederson).

TB: Who is taller? I have seen Chiney listed at 6-3, is that true?

Nneka: She is taller than I am!

TB: Who is more "competitive", you or your sister?

Nneka: She is a little more "outright" with her competitiveness, though.

TB: Did you ever have to play against her when you were the same size?

Nneka: I don't think we have ever player against each other. I don't think we ever wanted to!

TB: How tall were you when entering high school?

Nneka: I want to say I was about 5-11.

TB: Does it seem a little strange that your careers are so parallel to date? - Chiney is a 6-2 post player, was MVP of the state tournament as a senior, led her team to a 5A title, made the McDonald's All-American team, got five-stars from Scout, signed with Stanford and was named Gatorade National Player of the Year. Doesn't that sound eerily familiar?

Nneka: (Laughing) Why yes, it does sound a little bit familiar!

TB: Did the two of you discuss and set goals this audacious, and if so, when?

Nneka: We have talked to each other about what we want to achieve. A lot of things we want to achieve are definitely the same. I was talking to her when she was making her journey to "state" and she has been talking me through this tournament. And we have talked about the future. She is going to be here in the same boat with me and we are going to be working together to do this. We definitely share a lot of what we like to do and that's why we tend to help each other be successful.

TB: Would Jayne Appel having one more year of eligibility be "fair" to the rest of the country? You, Jayne, Kayla, Sarah, Joslyn, Michelle, Ashley, AND Chiney? Really?

Nneka: (Laughing) I wouldn't say that it wouldn't be "fair". I wouldn't object. I'd take that!

TB: What is it with Stanford Women's hoops? Jayne establishes herself as Pac-10 POY and a First-Team All-American last year, is considered perhaps the best post player in Cardinal history, and barely gets a chance to bask in all that glory before "BAM!" - she has you all sneaking up on her and now you have Chiney barking at your heels! You don't mind that continuous inflow of talent?

Nneka: Oh no, not at all. When you have that many talented players, you can depend on a lot of people, which I think is a huge strength of our team - we have a lot of depth. It's really great when you have that, just putting all that talent together and having people knowing their roles, that is always essential.  

TB: One of our "Main Jayne's" most admirable attributes has been her willingness and ability to mentor teammates and help get them ready for top-shelf competition, do you feel you will be able to step into that role as an "upperclasswoman"? 

Nneka:  I think so and I think I have already been "oozing" my way into that role. Whether it be on the court or off the court, or just "morally". We do a really good job of getting each other ready for what is coming up.

TB: Are you feeling any additional pressure to take home an NCAA title this year so you can have a "leg up" on sister?

Nneka: I don't feel pressure. We just feel determined to get things going. We just do what we need to do to get there.

TB: C'mon now, we have a "preexisting relationship", Nneka, is it too early to be scouting your younger sisters Chisom (aka "Olivia") and Ernima (aka "Erika")?

Nneka: I don't think it will be too early. I think Tara has asked me about it before!

TB: I read a quote from Cy-Fair's Coach Roubique saying that it was unfair to compare Chiney to you, that you are different players with a different approach. Can you explain the differences in your respective games?

Nneka: I guess you could say that Chiney is "Fire" and I'm "Ice". She is a little more outright with her character and style. I am a little more...composed,  I am more "down-to-earth". I try to learn things slowly in a way that is comfortable for everybody. Chiney, she is a bit more out there, she likes getting down and dirty, likes to be out there, doing it. In a sense it is just our personalities that make our play different.

TB: OK, you know there now are going to be Maples poster-makers out there with "Fire & Ice", right?

Nneka: (Laughs) I guess, we'll see!

TB: How quickly do you think Chiney can adjust to the college game? Apparently, it didn't take you too long!

Nneka: Oh yeah, I don't think she will have a problem.

TB: OK, final question: "High-heels or flats?"

Nneka: (Laughing) Well, depends on the occasion!

TB: And depends on the date, right?

Nneka: Absolutely!

TB: You are a terrific interview, Nneka. Congratulations to your sister and your whole family and best of luck to you and the Cardinal during the remainder of the NCAA tournament! We can't wait to watch you play during the next couple of weeks!

Nneka: Thank you!

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