Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week, she speaks with Connecticut rookie Chiney Ogwumike, who joined her sister Nneka last week to launch a fundraising competition (www.crowdrise.com/nnekaandchiney) to raise funds to support UNICEF programs focusing on girls’ education and empowerment. Ogwumike was selected with the No. 1 overall draft choice in April. Her sister was the No. 1 overall selection in 2012. Peyton and Eli Manning are the only other siblings to be selected with the top overall choices in a major sports league.
Seattle Times: Your family hails from Nigeria and news there about the mass kidnapping of about 300 girls broke on WNBA draft night. How did it affect you?
Chiney Ogwumike: Even if it was in another country, I would have reacted the same way and said, ‘Wow. This is a tough issue.’ But because it was Nigeria, we felt a responsibility on our shoulders to join in on the #BringOurGirlsBack movement. We wanted to take ownership, but we know we’re WNBA players and we can’t do anything. We could bring awareness, and the more awareness you bring to a crisis, the more pressure it puts on the international system to fix it.
Q: You moved beyond the hashtag by starting the donation campaign. Were you concerned about starting a big project during your rookie season?
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Ogwumike: I’m not the type of person that waits. … The relevancy of being recently drafted and whole Manning (tie) made an opportunity to really effect change because of the momentum. Most of the other athletes that UNICEF works with are more established, but they also don’t have many women ambassadors. We’re at a time where you need girls to be here to support girls’ empowerment.
Q: This fundraiser is a fun twist to a horrifying situation. Was that intended?
Ogwumike: Yeah, we wanted to recruit these (youth) teams to be involved by getting donations. For them, it might be cool to have a Google Hangout with Nneka and I or win some gear. Whatever the motivation is, it’s for a good cause. Playing basketball is fine, but we want to show that we care about the world and we want to educate people both ways — about Nigeria and about grass-roots basketball.
Q: Your ‘Nerd’ music videos were popular at Stanford. Any way to tie that in to raise awareness?
Ogwumike: Maybe. I’ve realized I have a secret star in the making in (teammate) Allison Hightower. She loves to sing and she loves to perform, which is hilarious. We have an ‘interesting’ intro-video on the jumbotron (that leads into Sun player introductions) that, for now, we’re going to let it be. But once we have a day off or two, Allison and I are going to come into the studio and try to switch some things up. That’s definitely the only thing I have planned for right now. If the wins keep coming, that increases the odds of another music video.
Q: Yeah, the mood is lighter when you win, right?
Ogwumike: Exactly. We just have to bring it up to date. You think of the Connecticut Sun and you think of simple, nothing too flashy. We’re going to try to bring flashy back. A flashy, classy.
Q: You graduated from Stanford on Sunday. That gives you more time to dabble in all of your interests?
Ogwumike: I have so much free time. At Stanford, I didn’t have a TV. Now I have a 42-inch TV, which is amazing. And I have a DVR. I just learned you can pause live TV. What?! Every day I wake up, watch a little TV, have breakfast and I’m planning stuff for Nneka and I (foundation) and my TV shows. I seriously might start a TV blog.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067