Legacy. Tradition. A who’s who of American sport. As the Gatorade Player of the Year program celebrates its 30th anniversary year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, fans can count many a household name on the roster of former award-winners. Over the past three decades, prep sports’ most esteemed honor boasts Super Bowl, World Series, NBA, WNBA, MLS Cup, NCAA and Olympic champions among more than 13,000 State Players of the Year and 270 National POYs across 12 sports. Let’s not forget the scores of program alumni who have gone on to capture league-MVP, All-Star and All-American recognition. Today, we’re catching up with Chiney Ogwumike.
Spend a few minutes watching Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike’s ongoing video blog series, and you’ll come away with a strong realization about the 2014 WNBA All-Star: She just gets it.
Given the ubiquitous nature of social media in the world we live in, it certainly isn’t unusual for professional athletes to turn to the likes of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for a little shameless self-promotion. What is unique, however, is seeing an athlete using his or her viral star power or magnetic personality to try to make an actual difference in the lives of others—unless, of course, you’re Ogwumike. Then it just seems to be second nature.
For instance, in one of her most recent vlog entries, the reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year talked about what kind of advice she would want to give to the younger version of herself. Turns out, it’s advice any young up-and-coming basketball players would do well to heed.
“You want to be as good as you can be,” a loquacious Ogwumike says in the video. “If I was 13 years old and my coach told me, ‘Hey, just stick with the bunnies, the inside shots,’ I would say, ‘Coach, I understand where you’re coming from, but if I’m wide open and if I’m in rhythm, I want to shoot it. I’ve been working hard in practice every day. I’ve been coming in extra and shooting, putting up 500 shots a day, which is a good number. Please coach, if you have confidence in me, let me take that once in a while.’”
It’s also clear that the 23-year-old Ogwumike understands the responsibility she bears as a high-profile female professional athlete. In another clip, she talks about the unfair double standard women athletes sometimes face and how their accomplishments are often disregarded in favor of men’s. She seems awfully intent on changing that perception.
“I’ll see an occasion or instances where the WNBA is mentioned and automatically people are like, ‘Oh, no, no, no.’” says Ogwumike. “They put a big X like, ‘Oh why watch that stuff?’ And I say, ‘Have you been to a game? Have you experienced a player? Have you met one in person? Do you watch college women’s sports? Do you know grassroots sports? Do you know a young, aspiring hooper or a young, aspiring player?’ Just because we may not have the same buzz as the men’s game does not mean our game is less valid.”
Of course, having a broad vision and understanding of how she can use her celebrity to help others is nothing new for Ogwumike. As a high school senior in 2010, the same year she was named the Gatorade National Female High School Athlete of the Year for Cypress-Fairbanks (Tex.), she cofounded the Step Up 2 A Reason fundraising event to benefit underprivileged families.
Oh, by the way, she also averaged 22.9 points and 13.9 rebounds per game that season, leading Cy-Fair to the Class 5A state championship and joining her sister (and current Los Angeles Sparks star) Nneka Ogwumike as the first siblings to each capture Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. First and only, to date, that is.
It’s even more heartening to see the younger Ogwumike using her viral missives to spread such positive messages given that her contributions on the court may be severely limited this upcoming season. She underwent microfracture surgery on her right knee in January and will be sidelined for 6-9 months. She’s expected to make a full recovery, however, so it shouldn’t be long before she resembles the player who averaged 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for the Sun in 2014.
And something tells us she’ll also continue her run as a star vlogger. Seems to be in her blood.
To see the legacy for yourself, visit the Gatorade Player of the Year winner archive, where you can relive history and see which future stars won their first national recognition as high school athletes. To see the cream of the crop, visit the roster of Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year winners, showcasing Gatorade’s top male and female National Player of the Year honoree, selected annually from each POY class.