espnW: Chiney Ogwumike
After our loss to Washington, Coach Tara asked us, "After making a piece of art, what does the artist leave?" As seniors, we had heard this before and responded, "Your signature." She followed by asking our team, "Would you be proud of leaving your signature on this game?"
From the start, I have had an amazing college experience. Going to a great school and playing in an elite program is a dream turned reality. One thing I have noticed is that every year in both school and sport, I have had a defining moment that has helped me grow as a player and a person.
With regard to school, my freshman year, I met professors Michele and Harry Elam, who gave me the confidence to “be me’’ at a place in which so many remarkable individuals stand out. Sophomore year, I declared my major as international relations. Junior year, I did something student-athletes hesitate to do and studied abroad in Nigeria. And senior year, I have tightened my bond with my mentor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and will graduate in a few weeks.
With regard to basketball, my defining moments have not come during my triumphs but rather my struggles. Multiple times freshman year I wanted to deck my sideline coach, Nneka, during practice. She would embarrass me with tons of criticism. (Please note that I would never deck her because I cherish my life. We have never gotten into physical fights because I know my boundaries. Nonetheless, she did it all out of love and helped me earn a starting spot as a freshman!)
My sophomore year, I felt as if I let my big sis down when we lost in the Final Four against Baylor. Junior year, we were ranked No. 1 and got smacked by UConn in front of our home crowd. And now my senior year, my goal to go undefeated in conference went up in flames as we got outplayed and lost to Washington on Sunday.
No matter how hard you try to spruce it up, it doesn't matter: Losing sucks. My team was on a roll and had not lost since the second game of the year versus UConn. That leads to my first insight: Never justify a loss. In the back of our minds after the UConn game, we might have justified our loss, saying that, "we are a young team, we are not completely healthy, or it's early."
While those things are true, a loss is still a loss. And consequently, after we lost to Washington, it kind of felt as if I had lost for the first time this year. As soon as I checked my phone, I had a flurry of texts from my family. It’s funny, Nneka never calls me directly from China because it is too expensive, but I had three missed calls from her. But what resonated with me the most came from my mom, "If the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder can lose, you can lose, too."
And that leads to my second insight: We are all human. The pressure and expectations of a being a winning team can be tough; you get everyone's “A” game. But, more important, it is a privilege or honor that opponents bestow upon you, and we welcome and embrace it. With great power comes great responsibility.
Even though I am so proud of my team for storming back late in the game, we were outplayed for a majority of it. The loss reminds us to never take for granted an opportunity to play the game we love, because failure is just as possible an outcome as success.
I guess you can call me the Taylor Swift of women's basketball bloggery, because bad things tend to motivate and inspire my writing. I am my toughest critic, and after four years of self-discovery at Stanford, I have finally realized that there is a big picture. So my last and final insight is: Keep it real. Life is about perspective. All those struggles have made me the player and person I am today. Therefore a disappointment can be a blessing.
At the end of a game there is always a loser, but everyone can have the attitude of a winner. Use failures to become a better you. Also, it's great that the game is growing. Kudos to Washington for reminding us how to play with urgency. I have so much respect for our opponents. It's funny, before the game, [Washington guard] Jazmine Davis asked me for a rematch in ping pong from our time at Pac-12 media day in October (our coaches were getting after it at Pac-12 Studios at media day). Along with the great memories of going to the Final Four and winning Pac-12 championships, I will remember those little things that make our game special.
So, to wrap up, it is important to know that everything you do, you leave your signature. Sometimes your work will not be pretty. But as long as you take ownership of your improvement, anything can develop to be a masterpiece. I am looking forward to what the next weeks will bring!
Last week I was either living in the library or hibernating in my room. The short time I did sleep, I dreamt about school. Four long papers and three tests later, my brain is officially fried ... I have survived finals week!
It is always a challenge for us student-athletes to balance sports and school. But it is a challenge we readily accept. Nonetheless, I am glad it's over. While most students go home for Christmas break, we prepare for (as Coach Tara says) our basketball final.
A lot of wonderful things have been going on in Nerd Nation recently. Over Thanksgiving break, our team traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and got some solid wins against Purdue, Florida Gulf Coast and South Dakota State. During that span, Coach Tara earned her 900th win.
I think it really hit me after win 899 because that is when the number truly registered in my head. Nine hundred wins? Not only has Coach Tara coached a lot of games, but she has won an obscene number of them! She has contributed to the evolution of women's basketball, from player to coach to Hall of Famer. My teammates and I are lucky to have her on our sideline.
We had a wonderful celebration at Maples Pavilion to honor her accomplishment. President Hennessy and athletic director Bernard Muir gave her a “VanDerveer 900” jersey. Our fans made some sweet nerd glasses. Overall, it was a beautiful night for basketball.
If Coach Tara were looking over my shoulder as I typed this right now, she would tell me to quit rambling on about her (she is too humble). So, I will shift my attention to this upcoming week.
Our basketball final vs. Tennessee is rapidly approaching. I love our rivalry and can't wait to hit the court Saturday. It will be a great opportunity for us to shake off our reputation as the "Nice Girls From Stanford." Rather, I am going to steal from Stanford football coach David Shaw. We want to be known for "Intellectual Brutality." Obviously, not in the same manner football teams are brutal, but you get what I mean.
First of all, I would like to thank espnW for giving me the wonderful opportunity again to share my voice with you all. As women's basketball players, we don't dunk (that often) or move with lightning speed, but we are special. Our game is beautiful because we respect the fundamentals, practice with precision and demonstrate true tactics to get wins. But most of all, our fans get to know us as individuals. They grow with us as we make four-year commitments to colleges and universities. Sometimes, they even know us better than we know ourselves. Hence, why I am so excited to continue blogging my experience as a SENIOR.
Time has really flown by. I can vividly remember walking into the dorms at Stanford for the first time, meeting people I will call "friend" for the rest of my life. I'm not going to lie, we were all clueless back then. We didn't know how we would assimilate into our teams. We didn't know what the season would bring. I had no clue what my major would be. But now, we are people eager to establish ourselves in the world. We are all ready for the next chapter life will bring. And I could not be more excited.
The basketball season has already begun! Coming into this year, I made a vow to myself to leave it all on the court, thinking that if I do that, we truly will have a shot at erasing last year's (Sweet 16) history and making a new one. Unfortunately, we have already suffered a loss. But that loss has taught me something that no win could: composure. The season is long. As last year's March Madness would show, it's not about the start of the race, it's about the finish.
I have been lucky and blessed to be able to represent Stanford University. And with that opportunity comes responsibility. As a team full of talented youngsters, we have plenty of potential. It is our responsibility to seize all opportunities to grow and get better as a team. This mentality starts with our leader, coach Tara VanDerveer. She pushes us to get better each and every day. For that reason, she is approaching 900 wins, a remarkable milestone.
As I hinted earlier, we are all excited for the next chapter in life, and for me that will be the WNBA. I am so lucky to have someone on the "other" side -- my big sis and current member of the Los Angeles Sparks, Nnemkadi Ogwumike. She was the 2012 rookie of the year and a 2013 All-Star, but I think these days she is known more for that crazy photo of her bloody face after a celebration gone wrong with teammate Candace Parker. All joking aside, she had a remarkable senior year and I always ask myself when I am challenged, "What would Nneka do?" Therefore this year, apart from chasing a national championship, I will be working to get myself ready for the next level. That means getting out of my comfort zone and owning my mistakes, because only after you fail do you learn how to succeed.
Before I check out, I always like to let you into my life outside of the court. My typical day involves class, weights, practice/games and homework. While in transit to the gym or my apartment, I am always responding to some kind of funny text from my big sis in China. My best friends are on the football, tennis and volleyball teams, so as much as I can, I go support them at their games. I also have an amazing roommate, Corey Hanewich of the Stanford softball team. She has taught me so much about her sport and promised to take me to the cages to teach me how to hit a ball (I'll probably have to wait until after the season). But after all is said and done, I'm probably patiently waiting for it to be Thursday so I can watch "Scandal."
And that's a wrap! Make sure you check up on our team while we are here in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, at the Hardwood Tournament of Hope as we try to earn Coach Tara's 900th win!
Until next time!
Even though I am having the time of my life in Nigeria and wish to inform you all of my recent happenings, I have a very different agenda for today. Let me start off with a story ...
My sister and I did not have the most graceful entrance into the world of basketball. Growing up, Nneka and I were like two peas in a pod. We slept in the same room, fought for the same toys, split snacks, helped each other with homework -- the list goes on and on. Believe it or not, Nneka was the daring, adventurous one, always plotting new ways for us to have fun -- and end up in trouble. I was the cautious, relaxed little sister who followed her like I was her tail. By the time our two younger sisters joined the ranks, our parents knew they had to find a way to channel away our energy.
After we were dubbed by our instructors "too tall for gymnastics," (Too Tall I and Too Tall II are inscribed on our high school lettermen jackets as homage) my mom was referred by one of her co-workers (shout out to Mrs. Browning) to put her kids in basketball.
Our first basketball practice with our one and only AAU program, Cy-Fair Shock, was a moment I will never forget, unfortunately. I was 9 at the time. Nneka and I wore our favorite embroidered jean shorts, tank top and squinted behind our chunky-framed glasses. We lined up to do a two-ball dribbling drill -- granted we never really held a basketball before. We felt the other girls’ -- with their Nike shoes, Sista Hoop T-shirts (yeah, that was the cool kind) and matching shorts -- eyes burn through us, chuckling as we failed miserably. I couldn't take it. I ran out of the gym saying I had to use the bathroom. I stayed there for the rest of practice.
Meanwhile, Nneka endured it all. Soon, she played her first game, and all I can remember from that is the muffed vision of it behind my hands, like how you watch a horror movie. But the next game was a little better because she listened to her teammates and coaches, and dang that girl can jump! My parents’ trick worked -- she became a very rich girl quickly by chasing rebounds.
But that didn't ease her hunger. She would reject those incentives because she wanted to become not only a good player, but a complete player. And I am so fortunate today that she wanted to share that ambition with me.
The best thing about my big sister is her selflessness. She does not have a greedy bone in her body. Every day after practice for that first year, she would teach me what she learned in the driveway. We would play games, but nothing too competitive. She was my first coach. She taught me and still teaches me to this day, all she knows.
But this story is not about Nneka. It's about a certain lady who I wish I could say sits in the stands at all of our games. If you know her really well, she actually quivers at that idea.
At my games at Stanford today, she has befriended Maples Pavilion guards, concession-stand workers and game-day staff. She probably can't tell you what the triangle offense is (only the offense my sister and I have been playing the past six years) or maybe even what a zone press is or a crack screen. Don't be fooled though, she knows the ins and outs of the game, from amateur to collegiate to professional level. She knows just what to say to get me prepared for any opponent. She is my mother.
I apologize, please let me continue my story ...
Thanks to Nneka, I was out of the driveway, confidently playing my first few years of AAU basketball with a team in my own age division team. Thanks to the tutelage of my sister, her teammates and our coaches, I was able to train with the "big girls," and it really helped me compete from a young age. My team had started making a name for itself, winning most of the local tournaments.
On this specific day, Nneka's team had played earlier so my mom and all my sisters were able to comfortably watch my game. Our team was en route to another win against a rival organization from across town. The other team was extremely frustrated to lose again to their rival, which is expected, and chose to resort to physicality, a ridiculous amount.
All my life, I have tried and failed countlessly (I will never quit) at being a point guard. Even to this date, Coach Tara keeps reminding me to that I better "make the right play" if I am going to take it coast to coast. That is just a very polite euphemism for "you better score or not turn it over or you're going to be sitting next to me." Nonetheless, this habit has been in my nature since I learned how to dribble a ball.
As I went for the layup, one of the other team's players, who was stronger than most her age, tackled me, using her arm to chop me at my neck with a punishing force, catapulting me into wall. It was a premeditated, high-velocity, life-threatening foul.
I am pretty sure I lost consciousness for a few seconds. I struggled to move. Nneka was down by my side in lightning time -- I am pretty sure my teammates hadn't even reached me yet.
During that time, my mother, whom I had no clue was even paying attention to the game, was in attack mode. She was storming down the bleachers, screaming at the other player, the other coach and -- how could I forget -- the other girl's parent. The only things holding her back were my little sisters and Nneka's teammates. They would not let her get too close to anybody because they knew it would be epic. Everyone in the gym knew that was a dirty move by a frustrated girl. She was kicked out of the gym, shoot, maybe even kicked out of the tournament.
If you try and envision my mom, she is a tiny woman (at least compared to the rest of my family). She is soft-spoken and pretty reserved in public, especially in basketball settings. She’s not a social bee at such events because she knows she is only coming to watch her daughters play and make sure they are taken care of. But how she transforms! It was like I was trapped under a car and that "mother’s adrenaline" allowed her to lift it and rain hell upon whoever treated her child with such disrespect. I could have most definitely been paralyzed or even killed by that foul, and she made everyone responsible in that moment remember that forever.
For this reason, I think my mom struggles sitting in the stands. Deep down I know she prefers watching from the cameraman's trailer or the concession stand corner because she knows if she sits in the stands, there is a high chance she will probably be on the court the minute there is a hard foul.
My mother is the strongest woman I have ever known. She did not teach me the game of basketball. She did not do the homework or pass the tests that provided me the opportunity to go to Stanford University. But she has protected me. She has always protected me and my sister's best interests with basketball, life and everything in between. She is the only one person in this world who is my mother, and she holds on to that with her life. She is tough when she needs to be, funny when she wants to be and caring all the time. She is my No. 1 fan.
So this is for all the moms out there who sit in gyms every weekend. The moms who chase their kids around the country from tournament to tournament. Even if they know their kids are probably not going to win the next game, they keep us positive, confident and hopeful. They always lend money to get those overpriced concession snacks. The moms who deal with sweaty jerseys and tired kids. The moms who cheer hard after wins and hug us harder after losses. The moms who see a superstar in all of us. To those moms, Happy Mother's Day!
From all the way in Nigeria, Mom, this is my Mother's Day gift to you! Love you to the moon and back!
Lions are not roaming through the streets. My ride is not the back of an elephant. I'm not living in a hut. I am in Africa, studying abroad in the country of my mother and father, a country with so much primitive beauty, potential, promise; I am in Nigeria!
It's rare for student-athletes to travel far from campus during the offseason, especially after an unsatisfying ending to their season. But Stanford University lets students chase dreams beyond their wildest imaginations. I worked so hard this past year to be a consistent player for my team, which can be extremely taxing. But, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Basketball has provided so many opportunities for me, but this is one chapter I really didn't foresee.
When you get to college, the first thing they usually say is, "You may think you have things all figured out, but that will most likely change." Coming in, I knew I was going to be a communications major, but I fell in love with history, politics and world affairs. Two years later, I became an international relations major. A requirement for graduation for IR majors at Stanford is studying abroad -- and here I am!
I am currently spending my spring quarter in Abuja, Nigeria! The first few weeks I have been a fly on the wall in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. If Nigeria had a heart, I'm pretty sure it would be pumping oil.
Oil is an essential part of the Nigerian economy and to see how the government works tirelessly to use this resource to propel the country is beyond intriguing. Hopeful entrepreneurs, military personnel, foreign representatives and esteemed officials decorate the hallways of the 11-story ministry building. And I'm so proud to say that the head minister of petroleum resources is a strong, determined, intelligent woman by the name of the honorable Diezani Alison-Madueke. I actually had the opportunity to meet her when she came to San Francisco during the fall last year, and I am so lucky to have this opportunity today. To top it all off, in the next few weeks I will also get to witness the creation of new Nigerian laws and legislature by shadowing the Nigerian Congress and National Assembly.
Beyond that, my personal goal during my free time in Nigeria is promoting sports, specifically basketball. Basketball is truly on the rise in this country. As an active member of sub-national USA Basketball teams, an experience I dearly cherish, USA Basketball will always be my No. 1 priority (seeing that my life and countless opportunities took birth in the U.S.). But I was also excited to see Team Nigeria qualify for the London Olympics as well.
Even though I am far from a Skylar Diggins-level of followers on Twitter, a strong number of my 8,000 take pride in seeing someone of Nigerian descent succeed in women's basketball. I feel it is my duty as a person blessed with so much to give back while I am here. I hope to attend some of the Nigerian Premier Basketball League games, meet some of the players and hear their take on the role of basketball in their lives and Africa. And as you may have read before, my last week I am also working with a charity called Access 2 Success and will travel to the city of Benin to run a basketball camp, spread my knowledge of the game and motivate and inspire youth.
This is a really exciting time for me, and I am so glad to have so many different people following my journey. Feel free to check out my latest updates on Twitter, Instagram and Vine under @Chiney321. We must all "be the change that you wish to see in the world!"
Ball is life throughout the world!
Recently, the basketball world has been debating whether Brittney Griner should have her shot in the NBA. First of all, I note the shift in dialogue from the collegiate level to the professional. The nets have been cut. Champions have been crowned. It has been a heck of a year.
For seniors such as Brittney, Skylar and Elena, their impact has been unparalleled. Women's basketball is on the rise. Any player playing in this rising generation, with technology that captures so much, has the opportunity to leave her legacy, however big or small. I am excited to see how they will spread that impact to the WNBA.
Secondly, the argument sounds like we are asking the question, "Where does she belong? WNBA versus NBA."
I was honored to be named a WBCA All-American for the second year in a row. During my time in New Orleans, I was fortunate to have breakfast with the legendary announcer Debbie Antonelli. We hit this topic and began discussing the fundamental differences between men's and women's sports. She said one of the biggest differences is that women are social beings.
Even though I would have traded anything to be playing in the Final Four, I had a blast experiencing the bells and whistles of the tournament with Brittney, Elena, Alyssa, Chelsea and Odyssey. I call these girls my best frenemies; we are best friends off the court and enemies when we face each other for 40 minutes.
So when people start making opinions about athletes and their capabilities, they should remember that we are all human beings. Brittney is the most fun, outgoing, silly, yet determined person I know. I remember watching that first local news broadcast from my home in Houston about “that 6-8 girl that can dunk.” Since then, she has evolved and changed the game.
Odyssey Sims is a master of disguise. Sometimes she is Sasha Fierce, and other times she is cool, calm and collected. She is my favorite rival in the state of Texas.
Alyssa Thomas is straight comedy. Although she can be very soft-spoken, she keeps me ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing).
The first time I met Elena Delle Donne was when we played together alongside my sister Nneka on the USA World University Games team. Not only is she the female Dirk, she has a huge heart.
Chelsea Gray is a fellow nerd! For someone who had a traumatic injury, her attitude is so positive. Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis were my first friends on the AAU circuit. They have supported me and I have supported them, even though we are thousands of miles apart.
Lastly, my girls Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride are like sisters to me. They are super-competitive and spread that toughness to everyone they meet. I loved roaming the streets of New Orleans with these girls, trying different foods, meeting all kinds of fans. I love hearing the scoop and players' perspectives on crazy wins and tough losses. I love how we share the same struggles. I love that we have the same goals. I love being a woman playing the sport that has changed my life and the lives of so many others.
What I am trying to say is that women's basketball is special because we are able to be best frenemies. When your best friends are your competition, you push one another to new heights. You raise your standards. You work together to leave your mark.
Whatever Brittney chooses to do will be her decision, and we players will support it. But please realize that we are all working together to be the best players we can and continue growing the game we all love. If you are not a fan of women's basketball, this is the right time to make that move.
Peace and love!
The tourney is in full madness mode! No lead is safe. No team is out until that final buzzer sounds. We were so fortunate to play at home in Maples for the first two rounds -- and does Nerd Nation go hard! Our first game was competitive, large credit to Tulsa, but we bounced back and were really proud of our team effort against Michigan.
Now, we are ready to face Georgia in the Sweet 16! The teams that survive are the ones that dive on the floor, attack the basket, and stay tough and together. Each ensuing game is an emotional summation of your entire season: blood, sweat and tears all bottled up in 40 minutes on the hardwood. When there is so much pressure, how do you keep your composure as a team? We dance.
After our Nerd City video, our fans expected a sequel. It is hard to come up with a quality video without being inspired, but that changed the day Miley Cyrus came out with her twerk video. Jos and I always love dancing, along with our team. Since our Nerd City video focused on witty lyrics, we wanted to showcase something else ... hope y'all enjoy! Oh and yes, we are nerds that can bust a move.
Until next time,
I am so happy, humbled, excited and eager to reveal something I have been working on with the help of many other inspired people.
It is something near and dear to my heart, which made for a serious case of writer's block! Whenever I write these blogs, I wait for a moment of inspiration. I don't like writing on a whim. So with a blog so special to me, I didn't know how to start, how to use my words to convey my many emotions. Then it hit me.
It was March 1, our travel day between our games at Washington and Washington State. After flight delays, practices, team video and dinner, we finally had some down time in our rooms. I was stretched out on my bed, finishing an episode of “Pretty Little Liars.’’
My roommate, Mikaela Ruef, was switching between “Kitchen Nightmares’’ and the OKC-Denver NBA game when she came upon an ESPN Classic film, “Elevate,” that followed the journey of four young African men and their hoop dreams.
We laughed when some of their conversations got “lost in translation.” We cheered when the players scored. We were silent when one of the players, Aziz, screamed in pain after getting injured in a game. We were shocked when the coach of South Kent left in the middle of the season.
Most important, we fell in love with the story of how basketball united people in a way we had never seen before. Basketball was pushing boundaries. It was synonymous with opportunity.
The whole time we were watching Aziz, I was telling Mikaela, "I swear I know him!" When they flashed his name on the screen, my brain made the connection.
I rushed to Google and searched for the University of Washington men's roster. And there it was: Aziz N’Diaye. Earlier in the year, I watched our boys play U-Dub. I remember thinking, “Man, that guy is athletic.” And here I am in my hotel, being enraptured by his story. It's crazy how things come full circle!
Although raised in Houston, I have always had a strong connection with Nigeria. As first-generation Nigerian-Americans, my parents stressed the importance of realizing how blessed we are to be pursing our dreams in the United States. Today I am living out my dreams, playing basketball on scholarship at Stanford, one of the best schools in the world.
Basketball has made that possible for me, and for Aziz and the other guys in the film, too. In one of my previous blogs I wrote that my experience at Stanford has "helped me discover my passion: I am an international relations major, with specializations in Africa and comparative international governance. I hope to use my platform of playing basketball to reach out to people, in the United States, Nigeria, and beyond. I don't know how, or the way, but at least I know a little more than yesterday."
Thanks to some help from friends, I have found the way: Access to Success. A2S is a charitable organization that supports underprivileged African youth through athletic, educational and spiritual programs, helping them develop the skills and traits that will let them reach their goals.
This program has built 60 desks, installed whiteboards and painted the walls at The Logos Academy, a free school. It has hired a part-time director to start an afterschool basketball program and awarded need-based scholarships to keep kids in school and off the street. In a trip to Nigeria, they served nearly 700 people in 10 days: 200 children in the afterschool program, 200 teachers in their free workshop and 250 youths in the annual basketball camp.
I am so excited to announce my A2S campaign, The Dream Team. Our goal is to raise $30,000 to build a basketball court in Nigeria, so we can we can share the opportunities and beauties of sport [teamwork, perseverance, fitness]. Even more important, we can work together to inspire and empower girls to follow their dreams, too.
This summer, I will be going to Nigeria with A2S. I am asking you to “Join the Dream Team” and donate what you can. Everything counts! Together, we can break barriers and leave our legacy on the sport we love.
To many people around the world, it is more than a game. It is a lifeline. It seemed like the coach in the ESPN film “Elevate” spoke directly to me, saying, "Your job is to succeed, so that you can go back and show other kids how to do it." There isn't any greater motivation than that.
From the beginning of the year, we did not know what to expect for this season. We lost our quintessential All-American, my sister Nneka, along with other instrumental cogs to the Stanford women's basketball machine: Lindy La Rocque, Grace Mashore, Sarah Boothe. To the surprise of many around the country, we have had a wildly successful season thus far! Each game we've played has taught us something, but the biggest lesson for me came from our Pac-12 tournament championship game in Seattle.
If you asked me in the fall, "Chiney, do you consider yourself Nneka's little sister?" I would probably say jokingly, "Heeeeeck no. We are two completely different people that just happen to look alike, play the same sport and go to the same school." But in all seriousness, as I have mentioned before, this year's journey has been an opportunity for me to discover myself.
I am much different from Nneka. She is finesse, skill and athleticism. I am back-to-the-basket bang, catch and finish, aggressive. Even though I could never admit it out loud, in my head I always wondered if I could ever be that instrumental leader for our team that she was. Our Pac-12 tournament championship game taught me, you do not assume leadership ... you attack it! You embrace it! You share it!
Our game versus UCLA was the biggest test of adversity that any team can face. Three games in three days is rough, not only physically, but mentally. I don't think our coaches got a wink of sleep, either, preparing us for our next game or working ahead to make sure we had all teams covered.
After struggling finishing the night before against Colorado, I took a sigh of relief during the championship game as my first shot when in. But then things would change. Credit to UCLA's defense, they were like ninjas, swarming the ball, playing aggressive D. As the game wore on, I felt like there was a lid on the rim for me, the worst in-game feeling a player can have. For so long I have felt in control, capable and willing. But that night, I fought the urge to question myself. In my head I kept saying, "Fight. Fight. Fight." But it just did not seem to be my day.
The beauty of basketball is that it is a team sport. When one person struggles, another person has the opportunity to step up. And that person was our point guard, Amber "Bam" Orrange. Point guard is a natural position of leadership. All season, Amber has been a steady force for us. As a quiet, shy freshman last year, from day one Amber was challenged to become a vocal leader for us. But on Sunday night, her game did all the talking.
I took my last shot toward the end of the second half, and immediately after, during a timeout, Coach Tara told me, "Chiney, you cannot do this by yourself." A big part of leadership is being able to let go, for the right reasons. No offense to the Mamba, but I could have gone all Kobe, forcing things to the point of no return (hey sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't).
But again in all seriousness, I learned in that moment that leadership is shared in moments of adversity. The ball most rightfully deserved to be in Amber's hands. She was having her best night. We trusted in her playmaking abilities ... and she delivered. Amber had a momentous steal and the game-winning layup!
As a player, this has been the best year of basketball for me, ever. I have the most unselfish teammates who put me in great positions to be successful. Every hooper wants a Mikaela Ruef on their team: someone who gets more excited to make the extra pass than to score herself. Every hooper wants a Joslyn Tinkle on their team: someone who smiles through any situation, but is tougher than nails. Every hooper wants an Amber Orrange on their team: someone who loves the game and her teammates more than anything else. Every hooper wants a Sara James on their team: someone who is the first to dive on the floor for a loose ball, just to save the possession. The list goes on and on.
What I am trying to say is, anything is possible when you play for each other. True teams are made when you put aside individual wants and needs for the collective good. Everybody has bad nights, mine just happened to be the Pac-12 tournament championship. But during any struggle, a true team will lift you up and get you through.
I am blessed to have those type of teammates, and I encourage you to be the same. We don't know what March Madness will bring, but I do know that my Stanford sisters and I are ready to battle ... like we say in every huddle, "Together!" I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, "I believe that we could be extraordinary together, rather than ordinary apart."
One of the best things about college is being immersed in a new environment. You are independent. You realize very quickly you and only you are accountable for your success or failure.
Nevertheless, when you go, you take a piece of home with you: your values, hopes, dreams and ambitions. With all of this considered, it is extremely hard for me to say -- especially coming from Texas -- I am becoming a California girl!
I grew up very sheltered, largely by my own choosing. Before you start jumping to conclusions, I did go to high school dances. I was allowed to go to the movies, visit my friends, etc. But I didn't really feel a dire need to do all of that.
The reason I chose to stay within myself was because I believed high school was a make-it or break-it period in life. It was the time when you laid the foundation for the future.
If I wasn't in school, I was in practice. If I wasn't in practice, I was in student council. If wasn't at either of those, 99 percent of the time I was at home doing homework, catching up on my shows or getting some rest. Nothing really exciting there. But I wouldn't have it any other way.
Now as I am writing this, I can understand why my parents would worry. What is going to happen when my child goes to California, with all the freedom to do whatever she wants?
For those who do not know, Stanford University is technically in Stanford, Calif., but is often recognized as being a part of Palo Alto. Palo Alto is a cute, tech-y town that captures the essence and innovation of the Silicon Valley. To the north is the awesomely crazy city of San Francisco. In less than an hour’s drive, you could be in San Jose, Oakland or even Santa Cruz.
I love the Bay Area. To crush the anticipation, no, I did not go buck-wild. I occasionally will go watch the Golden State Warriors play, have dinner on Pier 39 or visit my extended family in Fremont. But other than that, I am on campus, trying to stay on top of my academics or occupied with games and practices.
Again, I would not have it any other way. Because again, I feel like this is a make-it or break it period in my life. I am laying the foundation for my future each day I go to class or practice. Stanford has become my new home.
Our recent trip to Los Angeles put that all into perspective. I have always loved this trip because the city of LA has a natural energy that I believe translates to our team and our opponents.
This week we had different people step up in different games. Joslyn Tinkle is most definitely “Showtime.” She had a great game versus USC and is now just four points away from 1,000! Mikaela Ruef is also a huge role player for us, as evidenced by her double-double versus UCLA. Both teams gave us a great fight, one that taught us how to play hard for the entire 40 minutes.
But this year, our LA trip had a newfound significance. I returned with memories from this past summer of walking down the streets of Marina del Rey with my big sis, grabbing our favorite Thai food along the Promenade, and most important, proudly attending my first Sparks game.
California is becoming a part of us. Anytime you are working toward a goal, everything you do is make-it or break it, one step closer to achievement. Even though we may be in different places, we still look at each other as those notorious little girls from Cypress, Texas, with big dreams.
Happy New Year!
My blog is back from its winter break. I can't believe it’s already 2013! Each day I wake up in beautiful Palo Alto, I know I am blessed.
First, I am blessed to be playing the sport I love. Coming into this season, I knew we were going to have some ups and downs. It has been an emotional roller coaster: from huge wins against Baylor and Tennessee to difficult losses against UConn and Cal. Nonetheless, those experiences are shaping our team.
We have found our mold: grit! This is probably crazy to say, but I am a little crazy ... our team (like many, if not all) can be beaten. Teams can have more talent, athleticism, etc., but all of that can be negated with grit. We must outwork, out-hustle, and out-scrap our opponents. We must be tough and together, getting the most out of each other every day. That is our blueprint.
Second, I am blessed to have the opportunity to discover whom I want to be at Stanford. My twitter followers always ask what my experience is like in Nerd City. Well, today you are going to get your answer!
In my opinion, Stanford is a place where you slowly grow out of your fears and discover yourself. The reason I focus on fear is because I believe it can be one of the biggest motivators in life. As I have expressed in my previous blog, my basketball fear is not being a consistent leader for my team. But each and every day in practice, my coaches and teammates challenge me to become a better leader.
But what do I fear off the hardwood? Here is a little glimpse into my experience at Stanford. This past fall I was meeting with my awesome academic adviser and mentor, the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to discuss my goals for this coming school year. In the midst of our conversation, I confessed to her that I am nervous to speak in a large class. (Hard to believe, right?)
Right after those words slipped out of my mouth, the magnitude of what I said hit me. I am facing one of the people we, as a country, looked to for strength during 9/11. She must have thought I was crazy. Dr. Rice smiled and said, "Chiney, if you can play on national television in front of millions of people, I believe you can ask a question in class."
We both laughed. I must admit she did threaten to check up on me if I didn't start speaking up more in class, so I took the challenge. The next day I asked a question. Soon thereafter I was answering more in class, and then eventually I built a confidence in the course material.
Now, I am proud to say, my fear helped me discover my passion: I am an international relations major, with specializations in Africa and comparative international governance. I hope to use my platform of playing basketball to reach out to people, in the United States, Nigeria, and beyond. I don't know how, or the way, but at least I know a little more than yesterday.
Fear is one motivation, but the other is love. Spread the love people!
P.S. On Twitter, @moshark asks: @Chiney321, many fans and coaches complain that women's bball has become too physical. Since you're in the paint, what are your thoughts?
Yes, I agree the game is getting increasingly physical. When teams or players promote physicality, you lose the beauty and finesse! Who wants to lose that?
This blog is for all those players out there who got their (for lack of a better word) butts beat. This blog is not for David, but for Goliath -- that giant who got knocked out with a tiny, little stone. This blog is for those teams that are on the other side of the spectrum, which quite frankly I am not used to being on. Getting beat is bad. Getting beat bad in front of all the people you love is dang near unbearable.
I am a tough cookie. Ask anyone I know: I hate to show negative emotions. I will never let my enemy see me down. But after the game, when everyone left Maples Pavilion, I let it rip! I blame my mom. Before and after every game, I talk to her. She truly lets me unwind. She never judges. She sees the beauty in all I do, despite any circumstance. Just the comforting sound of her voice was enough. Forget what all those liars say, that real women and men don't cry. Real athletes are allowed to shed a couple tears of frustration. You want to know why? Because that shows that you are passionate about what you do.
So again, this blog is for those players out there who had a night when they could not hit the broad side of a barn. Those players who believe they let someone else down. Those players who could not sleep because of the horrendous replays of the game in their mind. Those players who experienced a struggle beyond compare. For those players out there, I want you to remember one thing: We are human. We make mistakes. We are allowed a moment to sulk and maybe even shed a tear. But it is our choice, our responsibility, our necessity to pick ourselves up and become better people and players from these experiences. We fall down so that we can learn to get back up. (Unless you’re Pacquiao. Just kidding! I had to go there. Ha ha ha!)
All the way up until our game against Connecticut, I could not have scripted a better start. A lot of credit to them -- they were prepared and came to play. If they can replicate that every night, then they are the real deal. But in my mind, as a fighter, as a competitor, that might just be the best thing that could happen to me. From now on I am going to fight to NEVER feel that way again. To my teammates, "Pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off and start all over again." To our coaches, thank you for never losing faith in us when it can be so easy to do. Thank you for coming back to practice every day with the same intensity and drive to make us better. To our fans, thank you for being with us when the going got tough. They stayed to the end on Saturday -- nobody walked out on us. You still remained. That is true love.
And to myself, today is a new day. Time to make it count.
Your fellow human,
Happy holidays and Happy New Year! I had a wonderful Christmas, and it started in Tennessee. As I exited the elevator and headed toward the lobby to get on the bus for the game, I noticed a bunch of people crowded by the doors: It was my family! My parents and sisters drove all night from Texas to surprise me and support our team against Tennessee!
Winning in Thompson-Boling Arena is a very difficult thing to do, especially with coach Pat Summitt rallying the crowd ... but we did it! I am so proud of how far our team has come and how we respond to the challenges presented to us.
It was refreshing to be home in Cypress, Texas, for a few days and recharge for the rest of the season. I got some great presents, but the best gift of all can come soon ...
I cannot believe we have one nonconference game left! And it's the biggest game yet: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 2 Connecticut. Last time, in Maples, the atmosphere was electric and we ended UConn's 90-game winning streak! We know this time we have a huge target on our back and will get the Huskies' A-game.
But again, I say: "Fear None." The first mistake you can make is expecting to win; I will urge our team to work to win. It is going to come down to who wants it most. And I sure as heck want this bad.
I'm all-in. Let's go, Stanny!
Our basketball season is in full swing! Teams are trying to figure out their identities, players are trying to establish themselves on the hardwood. ... It's the best time of the year! Not to mention that it is the holiday season as well, and you know what goes well with the holidays? Hoops!
Our team just finished a huge road trip, squaring off against South Carolina and Tennessee! Being a Texas girl, I love the South. Sweet tea in hotels and Southern hospitality easily makes this trip one of my favorites! But this year, something special stole the show.
The day before our Tennessee game, we made a trip to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame! If you are a true supporter of women's basketball, YOU MUST GO! From the skirt/dress uniforms that the players originally wore to the list of female dunkers, the WBHOF is an inspiring testament to how far our game has come!
I am so glad Coach Pat Summitt helped spearhead this initiative because women deserve to be recognized for their audacity, excellence and innovation in sport! I even learned some things about my school:
1) Where was the first collegiate women's basketball game?
Berkeley, Calif. Stanford beat Cal, 2-1.
2) Which women’s basketball coach has the all-time highest winning percentage in the Pac-12/Pac-10?
Amy Tucker. (Our associate head coach at Stanford!) Surprising, huh? Amy, along with co-head coach Marianne Stanley, went 29-3 overall and 18-0 in conference play in 1995-96 while coach Tara van Derveer was leading the U.S. National Team to Olympic gold at the Atlanta Games.
Well, I've got to go prep for some big games ahead, but please go visit the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn. Be a witness to the wonderful history created by courageous women in sport!
Peace and love.
As people have come to know, I have a big sister: Nneka. And she is pretty awesome, WNBA Rookie of the Year status and all. Yes, I'm super proud. As you might also know, I have two younger sisters as well: Olivia and Erica. They are rocking high school right now and are rising basketball and volleyball players at Cy-Woods High School back home in Cypress, Texas.
But what you all don't know is that I have a twin: Joslyn Tinkle.
Joslyn is a senior forward on our team from Missoula, Mont. I always joke that Jos is my twin because we just are kindred spirits -- outgoing, competitive, a touch of crazy, yet grounded by a desire to excel.
Over the past few years, our team has embraced all aspects of a sisterhood. We may fight in practice. We may vie for each other’s positions. But above all, we are family. Our struggles make us close and motivate us to play hard for no one else but each other.
Of course, Joslyn has a family, and a stellar one to say the least. In my eyes the Tinkle family is the First Family of Montana. Her parents, Wayne and Lisa, played at the University of Montana, where Coach Wayne is now the men’s head basketball coach. Joslyn has two siblings: Elle, a freshman basketball player at Gonzaga, and Tres, a swaggy high schooler with killer basketball skills as well.
But things got really interesting for the Tinkles on Dec. 2.
We played at Gonzaga that day (Joslyn vs. Elle), a beautiful rivalry for the Tinkle family, and I'd go so far to say the entire state of Montana! Joslyn and her crew took on Elle's, and I'm happy to say we ended on the victorious end of the duel.
During the national anthem I almost had to whack Jos for getting teary eyed so close to game time. But with all seriousness, it was truly a special moment. For everyone that thinks only wins matter, don't be naive. We live for memories such as these. We live for the moments we share with each other, as teammates, as sisters.
Peace and love!