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From student to master, Nneka Ogwumike ’12 returns to the Farm

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Maples Pavilion roared as loud as it ever has when Nneka Ogwumike ’12 checked out of her one-game homecoming with 1:12 remaining on the clock. Instead of heading to her Team USA sideline, the Cardinal legend took the path down memory lane, hugging Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer and her staff before high-fiving everyone else on the bench.

Ogwumike exited the 95-80 Team USA win with 23 points and 12 rebounds, both game-highs. The 2016 WNBA MVP was killer from close range, going 10-for-10 from inside the arc and 3-for-3 from the charity stripe. 

More important than the statistics, she was touched by the support of the staunchly Stanford crowd, which cheered for the national team only when she scored. The standing ovations she received when first taking the court and again when last leaving it transported her back to her college days.

“The most nostalgic moment was probably when I got subbed out. I think that was pretty cool,” Ogwumike said. “Those ovations brought back flashbacks of all the moments that we had here.”

For Vanderveer, who enters her 34th year at the helm of the program, the match was an opportunity for reflection on the growth that Ogwumike has undergone in the past decade. She left the Farm as the school’s third three-time All-American, and as the second all-time leading scorer. Right now, Ogwumike’s professional rap sheet with the Los Angeles Sparks boasts accolades such as six-time WNBA All-Star, 2016 WNBA Champion and a gold medal from the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup.

“But when I think about Nneka as a freshman,” VanDerveer said. “She would have gotten torn up the same way our freshmen got it today.”

“Now, Nneka is phenomenal,” she continued. “And not just with how hard she plays and how good she is, but the person that she is. She’s a leader on that USA team.”

As much as the game was about raising public interest and preparing the national team before they head over to Japan next summer, the match served as a trial-by-fire for this new Cardinal squad that boasts the top recruiting class in the country. The No. 6 recruit in her 2008 class, Ogwumike praised the younger members of the team for their ability to make plays on such a unique stage.

“[They] came to the right place to develop,” she said. “I’m so excited to watch Stanford this year with [freshman forward] Fran [Belibi] and [freshman guard] Haley [Jones].”

When asked if asked if anyone’s game surprised her on the court, she immediately responded, praising sophomore guard Lexie Hull and junior guard Kiana Williams. Hull poured in seven of her 11 points in the first eight minutes of play, while Williams rained threes on the national team, going 5-for-12 from deep.

“ Lexie for sure surprised me,” Ogwumike said. “Especially in the first quarter, oh my gosh. I’ve seen her develop into being able to create her shot a little bit better, and today she really showed that. Also Kiana, but believe me we know Kiana can play.”

Ogwumike is now scheduled to head with the national team to Oregon State, Texas A&M and then Oregon. A second slate of NCAA competition will take place in the spring. But it will be this first game in front of a crowd of over 4,000 Cardinal fans that will hold a special place in her heart.

“I’m really grateful to be able to represent both Stanford and the USA.”

Seizing the opportunity, she then added, “Oh, and I’m still undefeated in Maples.”

Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.

James Hemker '21 is a Managing Editor of Sports. A computer science major, he has made the cross-country journey to the Farm from Baltimore, MD. After being tortured for years by the Redskins, Browns, and Orioles, the wide successes of the Cardinal have shown him that the teams you root for can in fact win championships. Contact James at jahemker 'at' stanford.edu.