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Unless called, WNBA’s Nneka Ogwumike to miss Olympics

Basketball fans can see a lot of Nneka Ogwumike on the big and small screen this summer. She is a member of the villainous Goon Squad in the movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which premiered on Friday. And she was featured in ESPN documentary “144,” which chronicles life inside the bubble last season for all 144 WNBA players.

But one place Ogwumike can’t be seen is on the pitch at the Tokyo Olympics, unless FIBA, the international sports governing body, grants an 11th hour appeal in a dispute over the national team. that she can play for.

After Ogwumike was denied a spot on the U.S. team, a move that stunned the basketball world, Ogwumike and his sister Chiney, both of whom are former WNBA Draft picks and are Nigerians. -American, have applied to compete for Nigeria. .

FIBA rejected Nneka’s request, citing his “significant involvement” with USA Basketball. Chiney Ogwumike, who spent much less time with the US national team, was cleared to play for Nigeria as a naturalized citizen.

Erica Ogwumike, another sister of Nneka and Chiney and former star of Rice who is now in medical school, has been cleared to play for Nigeria without conditions.

Nneka Ogwumike, who was still suffering from a sprained knee when the USA Basketball team selection was announced, is the only WNBA MVP winner not to make an Olympic squad .

The Ogwumike sisters, who were born and raised in Texas, have dual citizenship because their parents, Peter and Ify, were born in Nigeria.

“I teased Nneka and said, ‘Hey guys play for Nigeria, call me and I’ll coach,'” said Tara VanDerveer, who coached the Ogwumike sisters at Stanford. “There couldn’t be a better player on your team than an Ogwumike. They are absolute winners. I’ve never had a bad day training either of them and I’ve been tough on both of them. They are just amazing people and amazing players.

In and beyond WNBA circles, the feeling is the same.

“I think Nneka deserves everything she’s keen to do, whether it’s continuing with USA Basketball in the future or with the Nigerian national team,” said Sue Bird, who is playing in her fifth. Olympic Games. “There is nobility both ways and if you know Nneka she will follow her heart, there will be good intentions and it will be the right decision for her and I think we all support him no matter what. “

FIBA’s refusal at Nneka’s request is a tough pill for the family to swallow. Although she’s given so much to the U.S. National Team, she may be watching the two teams go head to head from home.

Ogwumike’s appeal is based on governing body rules that allow exceptions “in the interests of the development of basketball.” Nigeria are currently ranked No.17 in the world and the addition of the Ogwumikes would make the country a medal contender, said Dawn Staley, the US team’s coach. It would also give a huge boost to a continent that has never won an Olympic medal in men’s or women’s basketball.

“I hope FIBA ​​allows her to play because of everything she has given to the game and how hard she has worked for it,” said Staley. “I hope she can tick being an Olympian off her list.”

There isn’t much time, however. The United States and Nigeria will meet in an exhibition game on Sunday in Las Vegas and at the opening of the Women’s Basketball Olympics on July 27. Players’ attorney Howard Jacobs has also filed a petition with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the final arbiter in global sporting disputes, in case FIBA ​​does not change its original ruling.

FIBA has a habit of allowing American players to compete for other countries, such as Becky Hammon for Russia and Courtney Vandersloot for Hungary, although neither have spent so much time with the senior national team than Nneka Ogwumike did with the United States.

Ogwumike, 31, has been in USA Basketball for almost half of his life. She was voted MVP of the 2020 Olympic Qualifying Tournament, finished second on Team USA in scoring and rebounding 2019-2020 and attended all Team States training camps. -United for the past few years. Many believed she should have been on the Olympic team in 2012 and 2016.

Staley, who is not on the five-player selection committee, said a sprained left knee, which Ogwumike suffered on June 2, was the reason she was not on the squad. . However, based on the injury recovery schedule, Ogwumike is expected to be in good health for Olympic competition. The prognosis was similar for Diana Taurasi, who missed nearly a month with a broken sternum and recently suffered a hip injury that kept her from making the team’s exhibition game on Wednesday. , but was still selected to compete in her fifth Olympics.

Current and former WNBA and NBA players and coaches have expressed outrage on social media and in interviews after the U.S. squad’s announcement. Some have criticized the influence of the University of Connecticut on the list.

Candace Parker, a two-time Olympian who retired from the national team after being excluded from the 2016 squad, approached the situation by saying, “How many times are we going to say that this is not the case? Politics? I think we all know that.

“That’s why I’m commenting in Tokyo,” she added, referring to her role on NBC’s broadcast team for the Olympics.

Geno Auriemma, UConn’s women’s team coach, is a member of the selection committee and coached the Olympic team in 2012 and 2016. Five former Huskies have made the current 12-person squad, including Bird, Taurasi , Breanna Stewart, Tina Charles and Napheesa. Coal.

“What I find funny are the two times I was a coach, it was ‘UConn politics, UConn bias’ because I was the coach,” Auriemma recently told reporters.

Emphasizing that he is no longer the coach, Auriemma added: “Wherever I am, it’s your fault if you don’t like who’s on the squad.”

VanDerveer said she doesn’t believe coaches should serve more than one Olympic cycle or be an integral part of the selection process.

“I don’t think a single person should have so much influence, control or power in making decisions,” VanDerveer said. “. It’s USA Basketball and he has to represent the United States.

Referring to UConn’s colors, VanDerveer added, “It’s red, white and blue, it’s not white and blue.

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