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Chiney Ogwumike, portrait of a player of the year candidate

Chiney Ogwumike controls the paint versus Arizona State.
Chiney Ogwumike controls the paint versus Arizona State.
Scott Mammoser

“Who’s better than her?”

That’s what Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne wondered after Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike posted her routine performance of 30 points and 16 rebounds in the Cardinal’s 80-56 win at ASU Monday.

“Odyssey Sims (of Baylor) is good, but it’s hard to compare a point guard and a center,” Turner Thorne said. “I think she’s the best post player in the country. She’s hitting threes now…I think she’s in the same conversation with the best players in the game.”

Averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds per game, the 6-foot-4 Nigerian American is already the Pacific-12 Conference’s all-time leading rebounder and is closing in on the school scoring mark for one of women’s basketball’s elite programs. Chiney is currently third behind Candice Wiggins and her sister Nnemkadi, who graduated two years ago and now stars for the Los Angeles Sparks.

“I don’t compare her to her sister, she’s her own person,” said Stanford’s Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer. “She’s a great player, a great competitor, she is extremely intelligent, she plays really hard, she’s a fabulous leader of our team, and I can be hard on her. I don’t sugar coat things for her, she’s not sensitive, she wants to know what she can do better.”

Stanford (17-1, 6-0 in the Pac-12) is presently ranked No. 4, with a 19-point loss at top-ranked Connecticut its only blemish. Four days after being held to 6-of-16 shooting at UConn, Ogwumike punished Cal Poly with her career high of 36 points.

“We get everyone’s A game,” Ogwumike said of Stanford. “We like adversity; it’s an opportunity for us to play together. The No. 1 thing about Stanford women’s basketball is our team chemistry.”

After what is expected a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Ogwumike will likely return to Connecticut this spring, as the Sun holds the top pick in the WNBA Draft. Off the court, the international relations major will be receiving a diploma from one of America’s most prestigious academic universities.

“Before we were leaving to head out, we had like five players with their books open before the game, and it’s funny because we are constantly looking for free time to do the work,” she said. “We talk about school as much as we talk about basketball, so that says a lot. We know that being student athletes comes first.”

Ogwumike, who studied abroad in Nigeria last summer, also has a smile that can light up a room and seals the package with a welcoming personality paralleled to the finest in athletics. She will be a dream endorser for the WNBA, a pillar of what every parent wants his or her daughter to become.

“One of those things is her mindset,” added Turner Thorne, who also played at Stanford. “Her level of focus and toughness, no matter what happens, they (great players) can take over the game. She’s a defensive presence, she’s like a (Candace) Parker, not as guard like, but she can step out. They used her to pass a lot.

“I watched every shot attempt she’s had this entire season. She’s there, just good, she doesn’t need a lot of space, she goes around, over, she has really developed her game. The things that separate players, like Briann January did for us - every year she came back and was significantly better, and Chiney has done that. She’s great fitness, great strength, great skill, not much separates her…….she plays inside and out.”

In years past, Candace Parker and Brittney Griner have found their ways into mainstream popularity by dunking. With seven minutes remaining in the game Monday, Ogwumike found herself all alone after catching a baseball pass from Mikaela Ruef. Holding a 24-point lead, it was prime opportunity for a dunk, but she chose the layup instead.

“In practice yesterday, Erica McCall grabbed the rim attempting to dunk, and the ball went in,” Ogwumike said. “Coach was like, ‘Watch you hand!’ That’s what I’ve been hearing since freshman year. It would be (a dunk) if I wanted it to be, but a layup is all about energy conservation, and that’s the route I take.”

And that route she’s on is headed towards greatness.

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