Last week a fellow columnist wrote about struggling to find time to support all of the different athletics teams this university has to offer, and I get it. Even the athletes get it; they’re students too, they realize the pressures we’re all under, and as much as they would love to have you out there cheering them all on every minute of every day, they know that’s just not going to happen. The number of successful teams and other distractions are just too many, and the number of students and hours in the day simply too few.
But among all the storied reasons, even at a place that is so accustomed to success that it has won the NACDA Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup 18-straight times— something which makes the second place in the inaugural 1993-94 season look like abject failure — some episodes still stand out. Times when it feels like history is unfolding right in front of you; times like right now.
You might not have been to or even watched a single women’s basketball game this season, but it’s still not too late to jump on the Chiney Ogwumike fan train.
It seems like bad timing to be writing this column right now, right after a game that could rank as the Stanford junior forward’s very worst. Following week-after-week of record-after-record, she set a different sort of marker in the Pac-12 Tournament final on Sunday, her record low in scoring. But don’t be fooled by one result and just three points.
At the beginning of this season, the James Naismith Player of the Year award was a shoe-in for the 6-foot-8 dunking sensation from Houston: Baylor’s reigning — and certain No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft — All-American senior forward Brittney Griner. Sure, a few other players were added to the preseason watch list, but everyone knew this was a one-horse race.
That’s not to say that opposition teams, coaches and even the press didn’t respect, and even fear, Ogwumike. Last year I remember an opposition player sitting in the Maples Pavilion media room, fresh off another schooling by the Cardinal women, complaining about just how tough it was to play not just her sister, Nneka Ogwumike ‘12, but also “little Nneka”.
However, in the wake of her sibling’s departure to the pros, this season she exploded from very good to not just great, but perhaps legendary. Her junior year has been so phenomenal that she could just — whisper it — leave the Farm next year as statistically the best ever player to have pulled on a Cardinal jersey and graced the Maples hardwood.
Barring the impossible, Chiney Ogwumike will be Player of the Year and the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft in 2013-14, but added to that she may well etch her name permanently at the top of the record books. When Candice Wiggins ‘08 was here, she scored an astounding, never-to-be-equaled, 2,629 points. Until this year, three of Wiggins’ seasons ranked in the school top-10 for points scored. In comparison, neither of Ogwumike’s freshman or sophomore years made that list.
Nneka Ogwumike, meanwhile, posted the first- and fifth-best point-scoring seasons during her collegiate career, coming as close as anyone was ever going to get to Wiggins with 2,491 points. She also recorded the most rebounds in a single season, 376, but came just third on the all-time rebounding list, behind former teammates Kayla Pedersen ‘11 (1,266) and Jayne Appel ‘10 (1,263).
After her sophomore year Chiney Ogwumike was on course to more-or-less equal her sister’s career; to be among Stanford’s top players of all time, though not quite the absolute top.
And then it happened. She seized upon her role in the team and ran with it. The contribution of her teammates to her success shouldn’t be underestimated; they have shown unselfishness in getting the ball to her and helping her rack up point-after-point. As a result, rarely have other Cardinal players out-scored her — sophomore guard Amber Orrange’s 20-point career game in the Pac-12 final being a notable exception — but even given that, the statistics are still astonishing.
This season alone, Ogwumike has 28 double-doubles — from just 33 games — recorded the first ever 20/20 game in Pac-12 Tournament history, set the single-season (431) and single-game (24) school rebounding records and currently has posted enough points (738) to be fifth on the single-season all-time list. Her career totals of 1,703 points and 1,086 boards give her a career-average double-double (16.2 ppg and 10.3 rbg) and puts her a dead cert for overtaking Pedersen by April 2014, and maybe even Wiggins too.
There are a maximum possible six more games left for the Cardinal this year. If Stanford reached the NCAA final, and Ogwumike continued her current consistency, she would finish this year taking another record off her sister. Nneka Ogwumike’s single-season best was 809 points; at 22.4 ppg, Chiney Ogwumike would have 872. Another year of that and Wiggins’ mark is hers.
And for those “lucky” enough not to be going anywhere for Spring Break — yes, grad students, I’m talking to you — two of those remaining games are going to be played right here on the Farm: the First and Second Rounds of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday Mar. 24 and Monday Mar. 26. Can you really afford not to be there?
Tom Taylor will be at the First and Second Round games holding a “Chiney Will You Marry Me?” poster. If you would like to be a part of his proposal and possibly another record breaking performance by Ogwumike, email Tom at email@example.com and follow him on twitter @DailyTomTaylor.