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Erica Ogwumike: ''It's simply been a dream of mine to compete for Nigeria''
HOUSTON (USA) - Erica, the youngest of the renowned Ogwumike sisters, wants to represent Nigeria instead of the USA like her older sisters - Nneka and Chiney.
The 22-year old, who was recently selected by the New York Liberty in the WNBA 2020 Draft as the 26th pick and traded to the Minnesota Lynx, is excited about the possibility of suiting up for D'Tigress who are currently the best team in Africa after winning two back-to-back FIBA Women's AfroBasket titles and have already booked a place to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
"I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CREATE MY OWN PATH SEPARATE FROM MY SISTERS FROM SCHOOL, SPORTS, TO SIMPLY LIFE AND THIS IS JUST ANOTHER EXAMPLE. IT'S SIMPLY BEEN A DREAM OF MINE TO COMPETE FOR NIGERIA IN THE OLYMPICS SOME DAY. I THINK MANY WERE SURPRISED, HOWEVER, I SIMPLY HAD NEVER BEEN ASKED THE QUESTION BEFORE IN AN INTERVIEW. HAHA. "
Erica, who is the only guard in a family of forwards including Nneka, Chiney and Olivia, is on a path to step away from the shadow of her sisters while also continuing to look up to them for inspiration.
She spoke to FIBA.basketball in an exclusive interview, "I just want to compete. Whether that means making the team or not. I think it would be an awesome experience to just compete with the great women on the Nigerian national team. I’ve only competed for universities and organizations so I can only imagine the pride and energy that’s felt when you compete for an entire country. It would be amazing to experience."
Asked when she made the decision to play for D'Tigress, she said, "Probably half way through college when I began to see my sister competing internationally. Being Nigerian-American my parents have always kept us close with our culture and where we came from so it not only seemed like a fun opportunity but also one I hold with the utmost respect and honor to be able to do so if possible."
"It’s been hard being in college and playing basketball to visit as much now but growing up we went to Nigeria frequently. I consistently love my Nigerian music, Burna Boy is my favorite artist, and of course we eat Nigerian food. Growing up in the USA never put a hindrance on our Nigerian culture because our parents did an excellent job continuing to educate us and keep us aware. Also we have lived in Houston, Texas our whole life which has a massive Nigerian population, thus events, people and more."
Nigeria already has a couple of players that were born and raised in the USA like the reigning FIBA Women's AfroBasket MVP Ezinne Kalu, Captain Adaora Elonu, Atonye Nyingifa and Sarah Ogoke among others - something that is exciting for Erica.
"Yeah, of course there is commonality in how we all grew up and I think because of that I can relate to them for sure. I hope so at least."
Kalu and Elonu chose Nigeria over the USA
"As many now know, we aren’t comparing why, it’s just what I feel is best for me. Nneka, my sister, has worked hard to compete in the next upcoming Olympics and I will be the first one cheering her on in her pursuit. She honestly is what motivated me to want to do the same. We are all happy and support each other."
Nigeria and USA were in the same FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia with D'Tigress leading for three quarters before the USA grabbed a 76-71 victory over the African champions. Nevertheless the latter booked a place in Tokyo.
Erica explained that, "I have been able to create my own path separate from my sisters from school, sports, to simply life and this is just another example. It's simply life and this just another example. It's simply been a dream of mine to compete for Nigeria in the Olympics some day. I think many were surprised, however, I simply had never been asked the question before in an interview. Haha."
Erica is currently completing an Anatomy Class "just for fun" that she enrolled for at Rice University where she graduated last year. This is one of many decisions to show that she indeed chose to take a different path than her sisters who attended Stanford University.
Playing basketball and studying medicine has not exactly been a walk in the park for Erica but hers is a story of determination and hard work that have spelled her journey thus far.
"It was hard but doable. I just had to become an excellent time manager, communicator, and had to find a balance of pursuing excellence in both. Once I was able to do that, the sky was the limit for me."
Indeed nothing will stop a determined Erica who continues to shape her own story and curve it out of the opportunities presented to her. With the Minnesota Lynx, not even the sky will be the limit for her.
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"They’re an excellent team. Great culture, very decorated so it’s an honor to be in this program where I am surrounded by basketball legends and experts each day. Very humbled and grateful to learn from them."
"I’m very excited and grateful for this opportunity, to be drafted, to be in the WNBA. I’ve always seen it as an option in my life but I didn’t really know it would happen until earlier this year. However, I am glad I put in the hard work and effort to allow myself to be in this position."
Should Nigeria coach Otis Hughley Jr select Erica to play for Nigeria, she will be joining Ogoke in the line of doctors playing at this level.