(Eds: Adds quote from Nneka Ogwumike. With AP Photos.)By JANIE McCAULEYAP Sports Writer
A few days after Stanford’s season ends, Chiney Ogwumike will pack her bags and leave for one of her longest and most important road trips yet.
The Pac-12 Player of the Year is headed to her parents’ native Nigeria to be an intern with the Minister of Petroleum. Yes, that’s right.
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”Right after our season ends I would have a few days to pack up and head over to Nigeria and that would be for a 6- to 8-week span of time,” Ogwumike said. ”I realized, `Hey, Chiney, it’s way more than a game, you have to start making plans for your future,’ and I had the opportunity.”
She will be a job shadow of sorts, and this all counts toward the study-abroad requirement for her international relations major. Ogwumike also will work through the charity ”Access to Success” to build a basketball court.
So, off she goes for the spring quarter.
As long as the NCAA signs off on it, that is. Ogwumike expects to know any day whether college athletics’ governing body will accept her proposal for a leave of absence, but considering that she is ahead in her major ”it’s looking good” that she’ll get the formal go-ahead.
”I fell in love with the major and I didn’t want to do any other majors,” she said. ”But I knew that would be difficult because our season has the tendency of running all year long, making it hard for me to study abroad within the year.”
Ogwumike leads top-seeded Stanford (33-2) into the Spokane Regional semifinals Saturday against No. 4 seed Georgia riding a 19-game winning streak. There’s still plenty of basketball to think about before she goes abroad.
Initially, she figured she would take the trip during the summer, ”but I fell in love with the summer school system where I like to get ahead in my academics, and that was so important to me, especially this year, because I knew it would be a big year.”
Her father, Peter, is cheering first for a trip to New Orleans and a sixth straight Final Four berth for the Cardinal in the Big Easy. Then he will be eagerly awaiting his daughter – she is the second of his four girls – in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, where he spends 50 percent to 60 percent of his time as owner of a communications company, ”or 30 percent during March Madness.”
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Chiney’s older sister and the reigning WNBA rookie of the year with the Los Angeles Sparks, is playing in Poland and might also visit if her schedule permits this spring.
”I’m really happy, first of all, and really excited,” Peter Ogwumike said by phone Wednesday from Nigeria. ”The kids, when they come here, it’s part of their heritage. They are Americans and were born and raised in America. We have our own cultural values at home as well. They’re coming here to do something that’s very good for mankind. They’re actually coming here to help and do something that’s so positive. That’s something to me that I don’t even know how to put it. I feel that it’s almost like being a missionary, helping people.”
Chiney Ogwumike has spent three summers on campus taking classes as well as a lead role in helping the underclassmen in the Cardinal program get acclimated as they begin college life as student-athletes.
Coach Tara VanDerveer is supportive of Ogwumike’s trip.
”She’s going in the spring, which will be better, because she’ll be here in the summer and can work to help our freshmen adjust,” VanDerveer said. ”She’s special. Chiney, whatever she puts her mind to, she can do.”
Ogwumike carries a 3.41 grade-point average and also makes time to serve on Stanford’s student-athlete council, which meets weekly and works to raise money for positive causes on campus.
”I don’t think enough good things can be said about Chiney,” teammate Sara James said. ”She’s always trying to do more, even when you think there’s nothing more she could possibly do. She really feels connected to Nigeria and has a lot of family over there. I know basketball’s a huge part of her life. It’s awesome.”
Ogwumike’s international relations studies are focused on Africa, with a secondary emphasis in comparative international governance. Stanford’s international relations department approved her trip last week.
”I am so incredibly proud of Chiney!” her big sister said in an email. ”She never ceases to impress me. Chiney has always extended herself to make a difference and now that I see a project she has been working toward for so long finally come through, it’s truly special. I have no doubt that she will raise the money necessary to build this court in Nigeria and also start what may be a foundation that could help many youngsters and aspiring athletes.”
Through ”Access to Success,” with its mission to help ”underprivileged youth through athletic, educational and spiritual programs to reach their goals,” Chiney Ogwumike hopes to accomplish plenty during her stay.
It just so happens that the organization will be doing outreach work in Nigeria during Ogwumike’s stint in the country. The first week of June, she will take part in basketball camps and after-school programs. She is also raising money to help build a basketball court in Nigeria – a tall task considering the $30,000 goal. She has raised $2,000 herself so far without even putting all her energy into it yet.
”Just by having a court, you provide so many opportunities in Africa, because there’s a huge untapped resource of players who want to play sports but they don’t have any means,” she said. ”Just by building a court, you promote sport.”
While some of the plans for her time are still being finalized, the charity work is likely to take place some 300 miles southwest of Nigeria’s capital, her father said.
”I’m really happy she will come here to learn. Visiting is different, but living you really get into the culture,” he said. ”We can use every bit of help we can from outside.”
Ogwumike and her big sister, Nneka, have done a lot to bring the issues from Nigeria back to Stanford and the Bay Area.
And, now, Ogwumike knows it’s her turn to do her part in person.
”This is really great for me, because of my family history and because of the opportunity,” she said, ”and as a student-athlete. For me to show my face and actually have a hand in sports there, and hopefully raise enough money to build a court, would mean so much to me and just Nigeria in general and Africa. Just inspiring people to do what they do. I’m super excited for this experience.”