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Tokyo Olympics: Can Nneka Ogwumike switch to Nigerian national team with sisters Chiney, Erica?

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Nneka Ogwumike might yet be an Olympian. 

The Los Angeles Sparks forward who was left off the Team USA roster is listed on the Nigerian provisional roster for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the country's basketball federation announced Tuesday on Twitter. 

She's joined on the 15-player roster by sisters Chiney and Erica, meaning 25 percent of the final 12-woman Nigerian squad could come from one talented family. 

Erica, a 2020 WNBA draft pick, committed to Nigeria last year. Nneka and Chiney, also of the Sparks, are waiting official FIBA clearance on player eligibility. 

Ogwumike sisters representing Nigeria 

The Ogwumikes' parents, Peter and Ify, were both born in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States. All four daughters, including former college player Olivia, were born in the U.S. The girls grew up going to Nigeria often and lived part of the culture back home in Houston, Texas. And they all have dual citizenship with Nigeria and the U.S. 

"It's something I know my family would be very proud of," Nneka Ogwumike told ESPN Tuesday. "For it to happen would be such a blessing. To be able to do something big for a big part of our heritage would be fantastic. I'm hoping it will contribute to the growth we're experiencing for Africa in basketball."

Nneka (2012) and Chiney (2014) were both No. 1 picks out of Stanford. Erica is the only guard in the family and is currently in medical school. She was drafted out of Rice in 2020, but did not make one of the few roster spots available in the league. 

Nneka available after Team USA snub 

Nneka was left off the 2020 Tokyo Olympic roster in what has been deemed the team's biggest snub of all. She was also not selected for the 2016 team and is currently the only WNBA MVP (she won in 2016) to not make an Olympic team. 

The star forward and WNBA Players Association president helped lead the national team to two World Cup titles (2014, '18) and was part of the "core" team that stayed home in the 2019-20 WNBA offseason to train and play college teams. 

The exclusion had not yet been addressed by Nneka until she spoke with ESPN on Tuesday.

"It was more of a hurt than a shock, because I had experienced it before," Nneka said, via ESPN. "But there are decisions made in this life that you can't control. I allowed myself to feel the hurt, but moving on, I decided, 'I'm going to try to put matters in my own hands.' "

She said she didn't want to wait on possibly being named an alternate, adding she'd been there before and doesn't view herself as a "second choice." Instead, she said she wants to be part of an organization that "prioritizes me." 

"My perspective was like, 'If it's not impossible, I'm going to go for it.' Because I believe I have Olympic status and I plan on being an Olympian."

Nneka told ESPN she's been fully transparent with USA Basketball about her decision. 

Can Nneka Ogwumike switch from US to Nigeria? 

Nneka Ogwumike against Nigeria.
Team USA's Nneka Ogwumike against Nigeria, the team she might play for at the Olympics, during the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2020 Group B.(Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

The first hurdle was USA Basketball releasing Nneka and Chiney to play, a move that was required because both had competed for the U.S. at FIBA-sanctioned events. Chiney competed for the US at U-18 and U-19 levels. 

There is still the matter of if FIBA will allow them to play for another country. The organization stipulates that if a player has played for, or written a commitment to a country after their 17th birthday they cannot play for another country at a FIBA event. 

But there are qualifiers that could release a player. The Secretary General, after consulting with the chairman of the FIBA Legal Commission, can make decisions on marginal cases per article 3.34. The Secretary General can also authorize a player to play for a "national team of his country of origin if he is eligible to play for such country according to this article 3-23 and if this is in the interest of the development of the development of basketball in this country."  

Neither FIBA nor the Nigerian Basketball Federation returned messages seeking comment from Yahoo Sports.

FIBA has emphasized growing the game worldwide. Nigeria made its Olympic debut at the 2004 Athens Games and is playing in only its second Olympics. It won back-to-back FIBA Women's AfroBasket titles. The country is No. 1 in Africa, but is a large underdog to a country like the United States, which has six consecutive gold medals seemingly with ease. 

Are Nneka, Chiney healthy for Olympics? 

The big question around Nneka is if her knee is healthy after suffering a sprain that's kept her on the sidelines since June 1. It was pinpointed as the reason Nneka didn't make Team USA, but she said she thinks she'll be ready by mid-July when Nigeria plays Team USA in an exhibition in Las Vegas on July 18.

"The way I feel now, I think I would be ready [for the exhibition]," Nneka said, via ESPN. "But if I'm not, I'll be ready for Tokyo if I'm able to get through the clearance process. The plan from the beginning (of her injury recovery) was for me to be ready for the Olympics."

Chiney is also dealing with a knee injury since May 28. The Nigerian national team will be announced at some point after that game. The country is in Group B at the Olympics with the United States, Japan and France. When the U.S. and Nigeria met in February 2020, it took a comeback for the U.S. to win, 76-71.

"The last few years, I've had the experience of playing against Team Nigeria and seen the rise of it," Nneka said, via ESPN. "It fills me with a lot of pride. To be able to possibly have the opportunity to contribute, that's what I want to do."

If the older Ogwumikes are cleared to play, it's an enticing game to see the family play against a team for which they potentially have hard feelings. And nice to see Ogwumike get her Olympic accolades. 

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