- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The only person who wasn't convinced that Chiney Oguwmike would be the top pick in the 2014 WNBA draft was Chiney Oguwmike.
Despite admittedly reading multiple mock drafts listing her first, and listening to expert opinions saying the same, the Stanford forward refused to allow herself to believe that her name would be the first called on Monday night inside Mohegan Sun Arena. "I always feel like, 'Oh, you never know, these things are never set,'" Oguwmike said just afterward.
Of course, this thing was set. And with the moment came a little piece of history.
When the Connecticut Sun took Oguwmike with the No. 1 overall pick, she and her sister, Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Oguwmike, became the second pair of siblings each taken No. 1 overall in their respective drafts. (The Sparks made Nneka the top pick of the 2012 WNBA draft.)
So who were the only other siblings to each go No. 1? A couple of guys with the last name Manning. As in, NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli.
Not bad company.
"When someone told me that for the first time, I was like, 'Wow, that's pretty cool,'" said Chiney, who was joined at the draft by her family, Nneka included. "And the weirdest thing was that we just fell into this sport, and we found so much passion within it, so much competitive spirit within it. And we came to love it. And now it's our life. And just to have the opportunity to share that moment with my sister -- who is my inspiration, the reason I play -- that was amazing."
The Oguwmike sisters shared a long hug before Chiney walked to the stage to hug WNBA president Laurel Richie and pose with her new Sun jersey. And then about an hour after that big-stage moment, the sisters were side-by-side again, telling stories from their childhood, each finishing the other's sentences, just like when they played together at Stanford. One story they shared was about the first time they tried basketball -- kind of tried it, anyway.
"We showed up at the gym in matching embroidered jean shorts," said Nneka, pausing as if that anecdote conveyed all it needed to. "And then the first drill I tried to do was two-ball dribbling."
"I went and hid in the bathroom," said Chiney, laughing, remembering that long-ago day.
So, no, basketball did not run in their blood, was not passed down to them through the generations. (Their parents, Peter and Ify, are Nigerian immigrants.) It's a sport they discovered -- "fell into," as Chiney said. But once they started playing, they realized they loved it, they realized they had talent for it, and they set about making themselves great. Both attended Stanford, overlapping for two seasons, both became All-Americans and now both can call themselves "No. 1 picks."
Going into Monday night, most folks figured that Oguwmike would team with center Tina Charles, last year's WNBA MVP, to form an impressive frontcourt. But just before the start of the draft, the Sun traded Charles to the New York Liberty for center Kelsey Bone, as well as the Liberty's first-round pick this year (Alyssa Thomas of Maryland) and the Liberty's 2015 first-round pick. It was a blockbuster trade for the Sun, who last year suffered through the worst season (10-24) in the franchise's 10-year history.
"When I heard the news about Tina, obviously I was a little surprised," Chiney said. "But I trust in the coaches, I trust in the management, and at the end of the day, whoever is between the lines is going to go in there and compete, and I'm going to be one of those people."
Oguwmike will be joined in Connecticut by fellow rookies Thomas, the No. 4 pick, and guard Chelsea Gray of Duke, the No. 11 pick. (Sun coach Anne Donovan said afterward that the franchise authorized the Liberty to select Thomas on Connecticut's behalf.)
"I have complete faith in this program and the type of players they're bringing in, and we're going to be ready to compete," Thomas said after being selected just after Baylor guard Odyssey Sims (No. 2 to the Tulsa Shock) and Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride (No. 3 to the San Antonio Stars).
On Monday night, fans filled the stands near the stage for the first time in WNBA draft history. They were mostly Sun fans, as the event was held in the team's home arena. And when those in attendance heard Richie call Chiney's name as the No. 1 overall pick, they exploded in cheers. "I don't know what I was feeling in that moment because I was in a state of euphoria," Chiney said. "I feel like it was destiny. I worked really hard to get to where I am, and I know I have so much more work to go, but to be picked No. 1 in front of the Connecticut fans, with my family, with my sister, alongside my sister -- unreal."
Although Chiney and Nneka will now be an entire country apart -- on opposite coasts -- the younger sibling said that shouldn't be a problem, that the family is used to connecting over distance. "I come from an international family and, honestly, if I don't call Nneka within a day, she will blow up my phone," Chiney said. "I don't have a choice; we will stay in touch."
Everything came full circle for the Oguwmike family on Monday night.
And the scary thing?
There are two younger Oguwmike siblings -- Erica and Olivia -- who also play hoops.
13dBonnie D. Ford