WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike could play for Nigeria in the Tokyo Olympics just weeks after being snubbed from Team USA’s 12-player roster. Ogwumike and her sister/Los Angeles Sparks teammate, Chiney, are awaiting clearance from FIBA after the country’s basketball federation announced the duo, along with their younger sister, Erica, were part of the 15-player provisional roster.
The eldest Ogwumike spoke about her Olympic snub for the first time, saying she did not want to wait around and be a potential alternate on the American team. “I just wanted to bet on myself and also be a part of an organization that prioritizes me,” Ogwumike said about the potential to play for Nigeria, according to ESPN. “My perspective was like, ‘If it’s not impossible, I’m going to go for it.’ Because I believe I have Olympic status and I plan on being an Olympian.”
According to ESPN, both Nneka and Chiney, who have dual citizenship with the United States and Nigeria, have been released by USA Basketball upon request as an initial step to compete for Nigeria. Typically, FIBA holds players who have competed for a country past their 17th birthday to that program for future events. But there is a loophole if the organization’s secretary general believes it’s in the best of interest of the growth of basketball in Nigeria for the Ogwumike sisters to compete.
“It’s something I know my family would be very proud of,” Ogwumike said, according ESPN. “For it to happen would be such a blessing. To be able to do something big for a big part of our heritage would be fantastic. I’m hoping it will contribute to the growth we’re experiencing for Africa in basketball.”
It was a huge shock that the 6’2 forward — who was the MVP of Team USA’s 2020 Olympic FIBA Qualifying Tournament, was one of eight original invitees to the program’s college tour against top-10 programs in 2019, and won gold medals in 2018 and 2014 FIBA World Cups — wasn’t invited to play in Tokyo. She is the only WNBA MVP (2016) to not make an Olympic roster.
“It was more of a hurt than a shock, because I had experienced it before,” Ogwumike, who was cut from the 2016 and 2012 rosters, said to ESPN. “But there are decisions made in this life that you can’t control. I allowed myself to feel the hurt, but moving on, I decided, ‘I’m going to try to put matters in my own hands.'”
There was speculation that Ogwumike’s grade 2 knee sprain, which was reported on June 3 to keep her sidelined for four-to-six weeks, was the reason she was left off the team, but Erica publicly refuted that explanation, and Nneka told ESPN she believes she’ll be ready to compete in exhibition games starting next week.
Two members of the U.S. Olympic selection committee, University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma and Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller, have declined or deferred comment on Ogwumike’s omission.
Several people in basketball have come to Ogwumike’s defense:
✔️WNBA MVP & Champion in 2016 (last Olympic year)
✔️4x WNBA All-Defensive Team
✔️2x FIBA World Cup Gold Medalist
✔️ No. 1 pick & ROY
✔️oh, and she is one of few who went to every Team USA camp the last 5 years pic.twitter.com/iEzDduj4Kj
— Chiney Ogwumike (@chiney) June 21, 2021
Okay so let's talk about bum ass USA Basketball….I'm going to preface this by saying I am happy for the players that made it and I have no issues with them whatsoever. They work their butts off for that opportunity and each of them deserves their moment…..
— Devereaux *casual fan* Peters (@MsPeters14) June 21, 2021
Brittney Sykes and Kristine Anigwe on Nneka Ogwumike: pic.twitter.com/9kMD1uEdve
— Los Angeles Sparks (@LASparks) June 24, 2021
— Chris Williamson (@CWilliamson44) June 23, 2021
We’ll have to wait and see if FIBA allows Nneka and Chiney to play, but if they’re cleared it won’t take long for us to watch them compete.
Team USA plays an exhibition game in Las Vegas on July 18 against Nigeria, which Nneka could play in if she’s healthy. If she chooses to wait until Olympic play, Team USA plays Nigeria in its opening group stage game on July 27.