Chiney Ogwumike gives Sabrina Ionescu insight on WNBA draft: 'I blacked out'

Yahoo Sports

The 2020 WNBA draft will look quite different from that of 2014 due in large part to the format that will take away the orange carpet, the jersey photo opportunity and the in-person cheers from a crowd.

But even with a virtual draft due to the COVID-19 crisis, Chiney Ogwumike, the first overall pick in 2014, still believes it will be one of life’s best moments for likely 2020 No. 1 selection Sabrina Ionescu.

Ogwumike tells Ionescu draft will be ‘best moment’

Ogwumike, president of the WNBA Players Association, gave her thoughts to Ionescu during Saturday’s #WeKeepPlaying event hosted by Yahoo Sports and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“It’s kind of nuts because we are in abnormal times, right?” Ogwumike said. “And sports is typically what brings us all together and we’re not even able to be together in this probably biggest moment. You’ll probably feel like this is the biggest moment of your life and you worked your entire life to get to this point.

“You deserve it. You deserve all the accolades. You deserve the whole jersey moment. But we’re going to have to be creative given the abnormal times. But I still think with the WNBA draft coming up, it’ll still be probably the best moment.”

Ionescu will all but assuredly be taken by the New York Liberty, who won the draft lottery and are the top pick for the first time in franchise history.

“I’m just really glad we’ll be able to welcome you to the fold, even if it’s virtually through an appropriate social distance,” Ogwumike said. “Just enjoy it and soak it all up, Sabrina.”

First-year commissioner Cathy Engelbert will host from a remote location and top prospects will join remotely to comply with social distancing.

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Ogwumike says she blacked out during own draft

The Connecticut Sun selected Ogwumike with the first overall selection in the 2014 draft. It was a historic choosing as she and older sister Nneka Ogwumike became the second pair of siblings to both be drafted first overall in their respective league. (The NFL’s Manning brothers, Eli and Peyton, are the others.)

Nneka was taken first in the 2012 draft by the Los Angeles Sparks. Both sisters starred at Stanford and earned their respective WNBA Rookie of the Year awards.

“Quite frankly, when I got drafted No. 1 I blacked out for about seven seconds,” Chiney Ogwumike told Ionescu during the event. “It was like, nuts. Your heart’s going to be beating out of your chest until you hear your name.

“And then I remember Nneka sort of slapped me like, come on Chiney, wake up, and that’s when it became real. It was all surreal.”

The Sun traded Ogwumike to the Sparks prior to the 2019 season. She also works as an analyst for ESPN in Los Angeles.

Rebecca Lobo on what sets Ionescu apart

Ionescu swept the player of the year awards after becoming the first NCAA Division I player to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,00 assists in her career. She is incredibly talented, but it’s her fire that Rebecca Lobo, a former Liberty star and current ESPN analyst, said sets the star apart.

“Her competitive will to win, her desire to win, that’s mentioned even before her skills,” Lobo said on a WNBA pre-draft conference call Monday. “Great shooter, she has great size, terrific in the pick-and-roll, she can pass. She’s got everything you’d want in the skillset but the No. 1 thing people talk about is her competitiveness and her competitive fire. Whether it’s a player like Diana Taurasi or Sue Bird, that’s the thing that can separate the great ones and she has proven that she has that and thrives in those moments and loves it and loves basketball. She’s one of those players that lives and breathes basketball.”

Oregon coach Kelly Graves has said Ionescu has her best games in the biggest moments. It was seen multiple times this season against top talent and on the day she memorialized Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.

Another Ogwumike sister in the draft pool

Erica Ogwumike is the youngest of the four Ogwumike sisters and is a prospect in this year’s draft, though she’ll likely be taken deep in the third round if she is selected. The 5-foot-9 shooting guard led Rice with 19.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.

“I think probably the greatest quality for her is that much like Nneka and Chiney, the way they go about their business, they’re great people, they’re committed, they’re well rounded,” Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve told reporters. “And so Erica would be falling in line with the traditions that her sisters have established.

“I’m pretty sure you’d love to have (her) around and I hope she gets an opportunity.”

She’s a two-time Conference USA player of the year and was named to the watch lists for the Ann Meyers Drysdale and Wooden Awards. Her older sister, Olivia, played her final two seasons for Rice from 2017-19.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike said she blacked out when her name was called first at the 2014 WNBA draft. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike said she blacked out when her name was called first at the 2014 WNBA draft. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

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