Cy-Fair High fetes Ogwumike

CYPRESS, Texas -- Chiney Ogwumike's friends, family, teammates, teachers and administrators squeezed into the capacity-filled Cypress-Fairbanks High School's Wall of Honor room on Thursday to watch the No. 1 girls' basketball player in the nation sign her national letter of intent.

On the northwest outskirts of Houston -- nestled between big box stores and mom-and-pop barbecue restaurants along U.S. Hwy. 290 -- one of the greatest athletes to pass through the school's hallways made it official.

The Lady Bobcats senior center will take her talents to Stanford University, halfway across the country in Palo Alto, Calif.

But the people who showed up at the signing came from all walks of life to admire Ogwumike's work and celebrate her accomplishments -- not only on the basketball court, where she's led the Lady Bobcats to a Class 5A State Championship, a runner-up finish and a semifinal appearance.

They also came to admire her work in the classroom where she ranks third in her class and serves as the student body president; she has a friendly, outgoing personality that provides words of encouragement to junior-varsity players, junior -high kids and non-athletes alike.

When Ogwumike entered the packed room, she got a rock star's welcome.

Then, the chant came – familiar to anyone who's attended a Cy-Fair High girls' basketball game -- "Hip, Hip, Chiney!"

The room was full of red and white balloons, sandwiches, cupcakes and pizza. Amid the refreshments was a frosted cake with the following lettering: "Stanford Bound Sister Act Is Back!"

For the past two years, many assumed that Ogwumike would follow her sister, Nneka, to Stanford, where she started for the Cardinal on the national runner-up as a freshman last season. Ogwumike made it clear over that time that she was her own person and would make her own decision; Nneka was a senior and Chiney, a sophomore, on the Cy-Fair team that won the state title in 2007. She chose Stanford over defending national champion Connecticut and Notre Dame, making her decision over the weekend.

"She said 'Mom, I cannot see myself playing against my sister in any shape or form,' " said Chiney's mom, Ify Ogwumike, a middle school principal in Cy-Fair ISD. "[She said 'It would be] so unnatural to be helping another team when I could be helping my sister, too.' "

The 17-year-old briefly thanked her friends as well as girls' basketball coach, Ann Roubique, and volleyball coach, Donna Benotti. Ogwumike is the reigning volleyball and girls' basketball MVP in Texas Class 5A-District 15.

Roubique called Ogwumike one of the top three players she's coached in two decades at CFHS, along with Nneka Ogwumike and WNBA player Lindsay Harding.
Ogwumike's senior season started on Wednesday night, with the Lady Bobcats defeating Houston Westside. She'll team with junior point guard Cassie Peoples, who has verbally committed to Texas, in a quest to make a fourth straight trip to the state tournament in Austin.

"It was awesome," Peoples said. "I'm very happy for her. I know she'll do great things. It makes me excited for when I sign."

Ogwumike has two younger sisters -- eighth grader Olivia, and seventh grader, Erica. Both of them play basketball at a nearby middle school and were excited to see their older sisters reunited on one of the nation's most dominant women's basketball programs.

"It'll be like high school all over again -- they'll play together and work together," Olivia said.

Everyone in the chatter-filled room was silent when Ogwumike spoke for a brief moment, thanking everyone for supporting the "most important decision in my life so far."

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Michael Sudhalter is a reporter based in Houston, Texas. A 2002 graduate of the University of Kansas' William Allen White School of Journalism, he has a decade of award-winning sports journalism experience at newspapers in Kansas, Missouri, Idaho, California and Texas, and has written extensively about basketball. He can be reached at msudhalter@gmail.com.