If spring practices for the Stanford women’s basketball team feel a little empty, it may be because two-time All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike ’14 is halfway around the world, studying abroad in Nigeria.
“It’s definitely different because she is such a big leader for us,” said teammate Sara James ’14. “We’re obviously missing her because she’s such a hard worker and she is a loud voice in the gym. It actually all happened kind of fast—the whole Nigeria thing.”
Having garnered national praise for her on-court dominance, Ogwumike has more recently attained a different kind of recognition for using her platform as a successful student-athlete to help others and serve as a philanthropist.
“Just being a Stanford student-athlete, people tend to see you as more than just an athlete,” Ogwumike said. “I want to leave my own mark that it’s not about what you do as an individual. It’s about what you do for other people, so that’s my goal. I want to be able to encourage people to find their passion and use those opportunities to achieve something and find a better life. I think that’s what sports did for me.”
This quarter, Ogwumike will be fulfilling the international relations major’s study abroad requirement by serving as an assistant to the senior advisor for the minister of petroleum in her parents’ native Nigeria for seven weeks.
However, Ogwumike said that she most looks forward to the last week of her time in Nigeria when she will be volunteering for Access to Success (A2S), a non-profit foundation based in Benin City that aims to provide underprivileged youth with athletic, educational and spiritual programs.
“When things should be winding down [after the season], they’re really ramping up,” Ogwumike said. “So going to Nigeria is going to be crazy.”
Ogwumike knew when she chose to major in international relations that the lengthy basketball season would make studying abroad through a Stanford program challenging. However, she was determined to fulfill the study abroad requirement and complete her specialization in Comparative International Governance and Africa.
That opportunity finally presented itself this year when her internship and planned volunteer work fell into place.
As part of that volunteer work, Ogwumike started an A2S campaign—The Dream Team: Let’s Build a Court—in February. The campaign aims to raise $30,000 by June, through fundraising and grants, to build a basketball court intended to break down barriers for girls in sports and to promote confidence in the next generation. Ogwumike will also lead afterschool programs in leadership and basketball clinics.
“In high school I was always in student council and civil rights club, so all these things have meant a lot to me,” she said. “I came to college so caught up with basketball and doing well in classes that now I want to do something so that I can leave my mark not only at Stanford, but knowing that I came to this university and I did something special. So I’ve been looking for opportunities [to make a difference] but it’s hard to do something on your own.”
Ogwumike found that opportunity after talking with Solomon Hughes, an academic advisor for student athletes, who recommended Ogwumike to his friend Andrew Lovedale, A2S’s founder and a native Nigerian who played college basketball at Davidson.
“I told him [Lovedale] I was willing to do anything,” Ogwumike said. “So I built my campaign and I loved the court idea because it’s related to basketball and I’m trying to make it as successful as it can be.”
A different experience
Ogwumike’s desire to give back may stem from her father, Peter, who worked for Hewlett-Packard before leaving to start a communications company in Nigeria to bring technology to people.
“I’m really happy she will come here to learn. Visiting is different, but living you really get into the culture,” Peter Ogwumike told the Associated Press. “We can use every bit of help we can from outside.”
This will be Ogwumike’s longest time away from campus since starting her career on the Farm and her first time going back to Nigeria in four years. Two summers ago, instead of traveling back with her family, she chose to stay on campus for summer session to get ahead in her major and spend more time honing her basketball skills.
The trip was originally scheduled for the summer, but she changed her plans because she wanted to be able to take full advantage of her last true summer before becoming a professional.
“This summer is really important. I not only want to work on my skills for basketball, I want to be able to go visit Nneka [Ogwumike '12] more freely this summer,” she said. “I haven’t seen my [younger] sisters play basketball since they were 10 and 12 and they’re now in high school, so I want to be able to slip away on weekends.”
Although Ogwumike will not take part in formal spring training this year, she will work out in Nigeria to get ready for summer practices and her final season of basketball on the Farm. Ogwumike acknowledged, however, that missing spring quarter will mean an elevated workload next year—on top of the season’s pressures—in order to graduate on time.
During her time on the Farm, Ogwumike has mastered the art of balancing a student-athlete’s schedule, maintaining a 3.41 GPA while, among other activities, serving on the Cardinal Council and helping to organize the Athlete Date Auction.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all [her desire to do good],” said teammate Joslyn Tinkle ’13. “That’s just the way she is. She is always a busy bee, trying to get into new things and taking advantage of all of her connections, and that’s something that I really admire in her.”
Hughes expressed optimism that Ogwumike’s time in Nigeria might increase awareness of athletes’ potential to create an impact beyond their sport.
“Chiney is unique without question,” Hughes said. “But one of the things that should be praised about the Stanford culture is that the attitude around here for student-athletes is that not only do they want to thrive athletically, but they also want to thrive academically and also thrive in regards to how they serve people around them.”
According to women’s basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer, Ogwumike’s absence will also contribute to the growth of the women’s basketball team as a whole. While VanDerveer emphasized how much Ogwumike’s enthusiasm and leadership is missed, she also stressed the importance of other players seizing the opportunity to be more vocal leaders within the team.
“We depend on her so much all year that this is the time for other people to step up, which we need them to for next year,” VanDerveer said. “But we miss everything about her—her enthusiasm, her awesome play—but I’ve been following her on Facebook and she’s a happy person and this is going to be a great experience for her.”