Cy-Fair senior basketball star Chiney Ogwumike was a calm, quiet, rather inactive baby. With her deep-set eyes she would stare and study all things, all day, while her 2-year-old sister Nneke would zoom around the house.
"We almost thought (Chiney) was lazy," her mom Ify admitted.
That thought changed one day when Ify noticed her second of four daughters staring directly at Chiney’s father Peter, who was eating a slice of pizza. She stared and studied and just as her dad looked away, Chiney leapt from her stroller and grabbed the pizza, to the amazement of her parents.
"We’d never seen her even make a sudden movement before," Ify said. "But she wanted that pizza. She watched his every move and at the exact moment the opportunity arose to take it, she took it."
Turns out, Ogwumike was neither inactive nor lazy after all, but rather a plotter, a planner, and studier of all her surroundings.
Turns out also she was neither quiet nor subdued, either. Over the next 16 years, Ogwumike grew into a gregarious and outgoing young woman, bursting with ambition and more so a sense of community.
"She’s always been a networker, a collaborator," her mom said. "She’s a people’s person and loves to communicate and inspire and lead. She loves to involve others."
And when Chiney has a cause – a vision – well, it almost always gets done.
NO PARADE FLOAT FOR CHINEY
Take, for instance, the 2009-10 Cy-Fair basketball team. Two years previous, Nneke, now an All-American player at Stanford who was the MaxPreps.com 2008 Player of the Year, and Chiney led the Bobcats to a 5A state championship.
The following year, Cy-Fair reached the state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Summit, 49-39.
With two state appearances, one championship and 74 wins over two seasons, there was a lot to be thankful for, and Chiney, an athletic 6-foot-2, 170-pound top recruit, surely was.
With no one taller than 5-9 returning or any other Division I players, it would have been simple and understandable for Chiney to cruise through her senior season.
Generally regarded as the top player in her class in the nation and with a full ride to join her sister at Stanford in the bank, she could have rode out her prep days on parade float, waving at her many fans and admirers. Nobody would have blamed her if she spent more time tweaking her straight-A course work or devoted more time to her duties as Student Council President, or Civil Right's Club Vice President.
But Chiney locked down those analytical eyes on her team and started mapping an inspirational plan. Her mom saw it coming – just like her baby plotting out the pizza – and almost dreaded the words.
"She said, ‘People have already written us off, but I think we can do it. I think we can win the state championship,’ " Ify said. "I didn’t want to discourage her but I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be a challenge.’ "
And that it was. But with Chiney pulling the squad together in every conceivable way possible, the Bobcats pulled it off, going 36-1 following a decisive 65-41 win over Hightower in the finals. In the championship game, Chiney had the signature game of her career: 31 points, 18 rebounds, seven steals and three blocks.
She left to a standing ovation from both sides of the stands.
"That was a special moment," Cy-Fair coach Ann Roubique told the Houston Chronicle that day. "It shows something about how important Chiney has been in Houston’s basketball over the last four years."
It also showed why Chiney is worthy of the MaxPreps 2009-10 Girls Basketball Player of the Year award.
Oh, the numbers are quite impressive: 22.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game while being double- and triple-teamed. But it barely scratches the surface of how Chiney contributed to Cy-Fair’s unlikely victory in the star-studded state of Texas.
As many as six Texas squads were ranked this season in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 and five standouts from Texas were represented at the McDonald’s All-American Game, two more than any other state. The Bobcats claimed the title with an unyielding belief and camaraderie that dwarfed other, more talented teams.
"The previous year was so painful losing in the semifinals so we just fought back and persevered," Chiney said. "It just came down to, we wanted it a little more."
Chiney insists it was no special doing of her own, even though she's earned at least four National Player of the Year selections. More so, she says, due to players like Cassie Peoples, a 5-9 junior guard who stepped up to average 14.9 points per game, and 5-4 guard Aarika Reyna (13.3). The Bobcats also got huge contributions from Tara Warren and Danika Cervenka, two more junior guards who combined to average almost a combined 15 per game.
Roubique said Chiney’s selfishness and leadership, more than her vast athleticism, was what keyed the title. She told the Chronicle: "Chiney doesn't need a spotlight. She is a winner, but she doesn't do it alone. She makes her teammates better and they make her better. She is just a team player."
SEEING THE ENTIRE COURT
It didn’t take McDonald’s All-American co-head coach Cathy Self-Morgan (Duncanville) to see her team was going to be in good shape thanks to Chiney. Again, it had little to do with her top-notch play.
Self-Morgan had heard all the positive comments about Ogwumike in the past and, of course, seen her play. But four days with Chiney brought the West squad all together, and, not coincidently, led the team to victory,
Her numbers in the game were strong – 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, along with three rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. But her other contributions were monumental, Self-Morgan said.
"She’s just an absolute joy," she said. "I’ve always wanted to coach her and she was even more amazing than I’ve been told. She’s just so unselfish and brings people together. She epitomizes what this game is all about and represents.
"She sees all."
Karly Gilbert, a 6-5 McDonald’s All-American post from A&M Consolidated (College Station), has played against Chiney on both the AAU and high school level. She scored 15 points and had five rebounds for the West in the victory.
"Chiney is an awesome, once-in-a-lifetime player," Gilbert said. "She’s very athletic and competitive, but what’s so great about her is that she’s so encouraging to everyone. You have no choice but to love her."
Especially when teammates need love, like another Texas standout, Odyssey Sims, who attended the McDonald’s game but couldn’t play because of a torn ACL.
"She made sure that Odyssey had fun," Self-Morgan said.
It’s not easy for stars from 24 different teams to get together and mesh, but Chiney made sure the West squad stayed together and on task. More than once, when the team or individuals were getting a little selfish, Chiney found a highly evolved way to squelch it.
"She wouldn’t hit kids over the head or demand things," Self-Morgan said. "She just found a way to include that person, to mesh, to bond. She has an amazing gift. And she’s a pretty fair basketball player, too."