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Women's Basketball

Q&A with Ogwumike

We caught up with 2016 MVP and WNBA champion Nneka Ogwumike before she left for her third season with Dynamo Kursk in Russia.

What did this year mean to you both personally and professionally?

It means so much and signifies a lot. When these types of things happen you think about all the celebration that you have with close friends, family and teammates, but it's important to remember where you came from. That's kind of what crossed through my mind as everything was happening. You remember all the hard times, the good times and everything that led up to this point. I'm just very grateful to have shared this in person with some people, but also to have received so much love via text, email and on social media from my family from Cypress to Stanford and everybody in Los Angeles, USA, Russia and overseas. It has been amazing.

What meant more, the MVP or the championship?
The championship for sure. I don't think the MVP would have meant anything without the championship.

What was your biggest area of focus coming into the season?
My biggest focus was continuing to develop confidence in my scoring capability. Being overseas it was really easy to do that because you assume a bit more of the scoring role and burden. But I've also had teammates that helped me understand what I'm capable of doing and a lot of times that's more than what I think I can do.

Can you take us through the game-winning play?
The earliest portion that I remember was when Maya hit that shot. We're taking out the ball, neither of us had timeouts and we know that we have to get a shot off. We just kind of played like we know how to play and do what we know how to do. Throughout the entire game I had told myself that the defense was going to be congesting me a lot so I made sure that I understood that I had to be more of a role player. Even if I didn't get every rebound I wanted them to feel like I was going for every rebound. The shot went up, I got the rebound and I actually don't even recall getting blocked. It came right back to me and I knew I just had to put the shot up. I guess the rest is history.

Reflecting on your career at Stanford, what is one thing you took from this program that translated best in the WNBA?
From the entire coaching staff and more specifically Tara, Amy and Kate, they let me understand that the only limitation that I have is myself. They really helped me grasp the idea that there's always more you can do better - on and off the court. That's something that really came to light this season. It's always been a part of my game, but my career has also been a step-by-step process, not necessarily with each step being one foot in front of the other. It's almost like you're reaching a new floor. I guess the analogy I'm trying to use is that instead of using the elevator, I'm using the stairs. It took several steps to get up to this point and now it's taking several steps to get to the next point. That's kind of how I can picture my career since I've been at Stanford and what they've helped me understand about myself as a leader and as a teammate.

What did you hear from the coaching staff and former teammates throughout the run?
Aside from Tara, Amy and Kate I heard from Eileen Roche, I heard from Ros Gold-Onwude and all of my teammates throughout the years. I got a lot of texts from current NFL players that were a part of my class from Stanford like Chris Owusu and Michael Thomas. It was really great to see that my Stanford constituents were keeping up and supporting me. It's no surprise, but it's always great to get that reminder.

What's next?
I'll be continuing my career in Russia. This will be my third year playing for Dynamo Kursk and we're looking to hopefully looking to win a European Championship. We didn't qualify for Euro League last year, but the year before we were third and last year we were third in the Russian League so we're hoping to change things up.

What would be your advice to this year's Cardinal team as they begin their season?
I think that something that a lot of kids need to understand these days is that when you come into a new season or a new period in your life where you're really trying to spark some change, make a difference and be successful, it's important for you to stick to what you know, stick to who you are and listen carefully. A lot of times the input that you get from different people is going to be from those who don't necessarily have much experience, but they want to see results. If you stick to who you are and what you know, and by know I mean not just know what you're doing, but know who has your back and know your circle whether it's family, friends, coaches or teammates, you really can't go wrong. If you come in with an open mind you can reach your full potential, which is probably more than what you think it would be if you were to set one specific goal. We want to set goals, but come in with an open mind, do everything to the best of your ability and things will really blossom from there.

Why did you run for president of the WNBPA and what are your goals during your term?
I think it was important for me to step into this role. Granted I ran unopposed, but it's still an amazing position to hold. I want to be able to make a difference not just for the players, but for the league. I think that our league is still young, but we're seeing progress and we really want to see some more. With the ideas that I have and the relationships that I have with other players and members of the league I think that I can really incite some type of change. We also have great contributors in Chiney and Jayne. It's no surprise that Stanford is heavily represented in this type of organization. We really want to come out and leave our mark.

The WNBA has been an advocate for social change, especially this season. How important do you think it is for athletes to use their platform to make a positive impact in society?
It's incredibly important. Whether you like it or not people are always watching you. I think that that alone is reason enough to be a positive role model, but also to voice your opinion. We operate on such a large stage that whatever we say will be heard. If we stand together, it'll be easier to influence change than you think. It's difficult to do it by yourself, but as role models I think it's very important for us to make educated opinions, suggestions and comments that can really add to the value of why people look up to us.