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Westhem: Chiney Ogwumike is an all-time great

Just as I sat down to write a column about Chiney Ogwumike and her storied career at Stanford, it seemed fitting that an email popped up in my inbox from the women’s basketball Sports Information Director, Aaron Juarez, announcing Chiney’s ninth Pac-12 Player of the Week honor this year – the 18th of her career on the Farm.

I probably would have been more surprised, however, if she hadn’t won it this week. Chiney saved her best for last, surpassing her career scoring record by one point on Senior Night, when she finished with 37 points. She also won the league’s first Player of the Week honor for this season back in November and her dominance clearly hasn’t changed a bit as she nabbed the final honor of the season as well.

Chiney is a phenomenal player and the obvious frontrunner for the Naismith National Player of the Year award, in my opinion. Chiney’s overall game has improved markedly this season. When I interviewed her just before the start of the season, I was taken aback just by the physical strength and muscle tone she had acquired over summer training. She has the perfect athlete’s body to propel her to success; the things that her body can do on the court to get around defenders, snatch rebounds out of air, steal passes from guards allegedly twice her speed and even wrap the ball around her back en route to wide-open fast-break layups all speak for themselves.

Chiney is the epitome of a well-rounded player: she can step out and hit the long-range jumper, she can post up anybody, she can grab any rebound, she can guard any player – she guarded Washington State’s best guard in Lia Galdeira on Saturday for a bit – she can thread the needle and complete the hard passes, and her footwork and body control are superb.

I played basketball in high school and grew up watching Chiney dominate with her sister Nneka. Being able to meet Chiney through The Daily, travel with her for KZSU and actually become friends with her over the past two seasons has been unreal. I’ve seen her grow so much in those seasons and for her to not win National Player of the Year would be robbing one of the hardest-working, most perseverant, most dominant players to have ever graced the game of women’s basketball of the highest recognition for her accomplishments.

Last year, the race for the title was essentially between Chiney and Brittany Griner of Baylor. I could accept that. The 6-foot-7 basketball beast could dunk, and there’s not much one can do to compete with that. This year, however, Chiney is the one doing damage in the sport and playing at the highest caliber.

Fifty points is all she needs in order to break former Cardinal Candice Wiggins’ Pac-12 scoring record of 2,629 career points. Earlier this season, she already broke the Pac-12’s all-time rebounding record.

It goes without saying that Chiney is a phenomenal player, but she’s also a phenomenal student and person as well. For the second straight year, she has been deemed a Capital One Academic All-American. So not only is she arguably the best player in women’s college basketball, she is also one of the best students in the sport as well, and at Stanford University no less, graduating at the end of this winter quarter with a 3.46 GPA and a B.A. in International Relations.

Not only does she a have a big brain, she also has the biggest heart – that’s what I admire most about Chiney. At the postgame ceremony for Senior Night, teammate Jasmine Camp spoke for Ogwumike, ignoring her talents on the court and instead focusing on her talents as a person. Jazz said that Chiney is a “ball of light” and I couldn’t agree more. Last spring, Chiney spread that light in her home country of Nigeria, where she spent a quarter fulfilling her study-abroad requirement for International Relations working in the Nigerian government’s Ministry of Petroleum. Chiney also spent time raising $30,000 to build a new basketball court for local youth through a charity called “Access 2 Success.” She exceeded the expectations of going to Nigeria simply for academic pursuits and changed lives with her humanitarian pursuits as well.

I can’t say enough about what an incredible person and player Chiney is. On Saturday, she played her last Pac-12 regular season game. This weekend, I will travel with her as she tries to bring back her fourth Pac-12 Tournament crown after already having won the Pac-12 title this season, and then I will be there when she tries to bring back to the Farm the program’s first national title since 1992. I honestly can’t believe that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of such an extraordinary team.

If you have never seen Chiney Ogwumike in action, I highly recommend you spend the last weekend of March at Maples Pavilion to watch her play for the last time on the Farm at the regional finals of the NCAA tournament. Or you can make the effort that I surely will – to see her ball it up in the WNBA this summer.

Based on Ashley Westhem’s tone, this article might be in violation of the NCAA’s rules on improper benefits. To tell Ashley why she’s risking Chiney’s eligibility in the NCAA tournament, contact her at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tweet at her @ashwest16. 

About Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She has been a desk editor for three volumes and now serves as Managing Editor of Sports. She is an American Studies major from Lake Tahoe, Calif., and aspires to work in sports administration, to positively affect the lives of student-athletes and the relationship between the athletic and academic spheres of universities.
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