HOUSTON – Nancy Mulkey walking into the Cypress Woods High School gym is something that Virginia Flores vividly remembers.
The 14-year-old freshman towering at 6-foot-5 stood out.
But just being tall doesn't automatically mean you are good at playing basketball. Flores waited to pass judgment until she saw her shoot.
Then she did.
"As soon as I saw her shoot, I was blown away," Flores, who coached at Cy Woods until 2017, said. "Here's a kid who's got finesse, has poise, and is graceful at the age of 14. She was either 6-5 or 6-6 at that time. That for me stood out."
Flores remembers a lot not only about the players that she personally coached at Cy Woods but also the ones that she has coached against.
The now-Associate Athletic Director for Cy-Fair ISD remembers DiDi Richard's fierceness at Cy Ranch. She recollects the pure dominance of Charli Collier at her alma mater Barbers Hill.
On Thursday, Flores will get to add another memory to the bank for these three players – watching them being picked in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
"It's been really cool to see a lot more excitement for the women's game," Flores said. "I think it's important for younger girls and younger athletes to see the opportunity. They are able to see themselves in these young women's shoes who are about to go to the WNBA."
Collier, who went on to star at the University of Texas, has been the headliner of this draft class ever since she formally declared.
The Barbers Hill product is projected in every mock draft to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Dallas Wings come Thursday night.
"Yes, it was ridiculous," Flores said with a chuckle about if she thought Collier would be a No. 1 overall pick one day after facing her. "She's just a competitor. It's amazing to see someone play the way she does at her size and she dominated. Then when she went on to UT playing under Karen Aston and now Vic Schaefer, she's gotten stronger, increase her physicality and she's embraced it."
The story is already written. #GodsPlan pic.twitter.com/jDjnxyUHaq
— Charli Collier™ (@charlicollier) April 9, 2021
The next Houston kid on the draft board is Richards, who is projected to go No. 21 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks.
The former Cypress Ranch star helped lead the Mustangs to the Class 6A State Championship game in 2017 and then went on to Baylor where she helped lead them to the 2019 National Championship.
"I've never seen anybody with a touch like that from the outside and the inside," Flores said of Richards. "A 6-1 player that played with the finesse that she played with and then to go on to college and continue to thrive."
The final Houston-area product is Mulkey, projected to go No. 35 to the Seattle Storm.
But what is crazy about Mulkey is when she first walked into Cypress Woods High School, basketball was not at the forefront of her mind.
"Nancy had a desire to play volleyball," Flores said. "She wanted to meet the volleyball coach and I don't know if basketball was on the horizon at the time. I think she had played it."
That has a nice ring to it.#GoOwls👐 x #Ready4TheCall pic.twitter.com/9axbSFCH0K
— Rice Women's Basketball (@RiceWBB) March 28, 2021
Mulkey ended up going with basketball and the move paid off.
The 2015 Class 6A State Champion after Cypress Woods went to Oklahoma her freshman season before transferring to Rice where she helped lead them to the NCAA Tournament and winning the 2021 NIT Championship.
"She's a competitor. Some people have this drive to want to be better and I do believe that is true about Nancy, but she also wants to do it for others," Flores said. "She wants to do that for her teammates and for her coaches. I think that's so evident at Rice where she did nothing but blossom and thrive in that environment."
So, flip back to the 2015-2016 season in Houston in women's basketball.
Mulkey was a senior, Richards a junior, and Collier a sophomore were all dominating the scene in the Houston area, which for Flores was fun, especially when Cy Woods and Cypress Ranch faced off.
"I think my kids were always geared up to beat Ranch because it was a rival and what also upped the ante was when you have a player like DiDi on that team," Flores said. "It makes other people want to play better.
"You had to bring your 'A' game every night."
If Richards and Mulkey are drafted on Thursday night into the WNBA, they will join a pretty elite class of former Cy-Fair ISD athletes to get drafted including the Ogwumike sisters, who all were taken into the WNBA. Then, of course in the NBA, Cy Lakes alum De'Aaron Fox is starring for the Sacramento Kings.
"I think it speaks to the level of commitment that our coaches put into our athletes," Flores said. "I think it also speaks to the volume that our community trusts us with their athletes."
Over the past few weeks, Flores has been busy.
In March, Flores traveled to the Alamodome to watch Texas-signees Rori Harmon and Kyndall Hunter lead Cypress Creek to play for the Class 6A State Championship.
Then in April, Flores was back inside the dome to watch former player Cate Reese take the opening tip of the 2021 National Championship game for Arizona.
To go from watching future college, to current college players and then to watch former players get drafted, Flores takes it all in.
"It's really validating and it's cool because the foundations that you laid here within your district or your own program are things they continue to build on as they leave," Flores said. "It's what we all want is to see them thrive at the next level whether that is in basketball, academically, or in their professional lives."
Projected WNBA Draft Picks
Charli Collier (Barbers Hill HS / University of Texas) – No. 1 Dallas Wings (Class of 2018)
Natasha Mack (Lufkin HS/Oklahoma State) – No. 10 Los Angeles Sparks
DiDi Richards (Cypress Ranch HS/Baylor) – No. 21 Los Angeles Sparks (Class of 2017)
Nancy Mulkey (Cypress Woods HS/Rice) – No. 35 Seattle Storm (Class of 2016)
Other Texas Stars
Kiana Williams (Wagner HS/Stanford) – No. 9 Minnesota Lynx
Ciera Johnson (Duncanville HS/Texas A&M) – No. 24 Indiana Fever
HOUSTON – For the first time in a long time, the Ogwumike household is full.
With COVID-19 sweeping the country, the family came back together where it all started. Ify Ogwumike sits back happy these days as she has all her girls - Chiney, Nneka, Olivia and Erica – back under the same roof again.
"It's fun," Erica said. "We're all adults now, so we're not playing games like when we were kids, but we are still laughing and goofing around. It's cool to do that not over the phone or Facetime, which is what we've been used to for the past eight years."
With two daughters that play for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA and one who's an analyst for ESPN and the other two at Rice University, being together all at once in person doesn't happen very often.
Being together this week will be even that more special as on Friday, Erica is projected to be selected in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
"It's hard not to think about it, it's the next step," Erica said. "I'm just really excited and happy that I've put myself into this position to be a contender for something like that. To look back and see my journey, it's awesome how I've been able to create my own identity apart from my last name. I'm hoping for the best but at the same time I know I've put in the work and the commitment, so whatever happens [this week] will be interesting."
The Ogwumike name has resonated through the city of Houston for a long time.
After her high school career, Erica went to Pepperdine for a season before transferring back to Rice for her final three years of college basketball.
Back in her hometown, Erica in her junior season helped take the Rice women's basketball to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005, the third time ever in program history. That same season, Ogwumike became the first-ever player to win Conference USA Player of the Year.
That season rekindled the excitement in the city around Rice women's basketball, which is something Erica didn't realize the magnitude of until after last year.
"I was approached by a lot of young girls who play basketball. They were like 'You go to Rice!'," she said. "Growing up, I didn't even know about Rice, even though it was only 45 minutes away.
"When I look back, that might be the biggest thing I'm proud about participating in in showing people that Rice is an amazing academic institution but at the same time you can go there and be an excellent student-athlete and get that full experience."
This season should have added to their historic resume.
Another Conference USA Postseason Championship within grasp. A second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament for their taking.
But COVID-19 had other plans.
Because of it, the NCAA pulled the plug on the rest of the year's sports, including the NCAA Tournaments, after the spread of the virus. Thus ending Erica's illustrious Rice career.
"I can't lie and say it wasn't disappointing," Erica said. "We worked really hard to represent Rice athletically in the best manner possible throughout my four years. I think we were really building on that. We did build a really good reputation for Rice women's basketball. To make it to two NCAA Tournaments, to win two conference championships would have been so amazing to experience as a team.
"So I think we will always have that 'what if' factor. We did have a lot of momentum and we were playing some of our best basketball at that moment."
Last week, Erica won her second-straight Conference USA Player of the Year Award, becoming the fifth player to ever do so in the conference history. In the Rice record books, Erica leaves first in career scoring average (17.7 ppg), second in career rebounding average (10.1 rpg) and third in career free throw percentage (81.4 percent).
Don't out play expectations. Outplay everybody.#OgwumikeOut pic.twitter.com/9R09XhOVYK
— Erica Ogwumike (@Ogwumi13) April 10, 2020
Her ability on the court has drawn the interest of the WNBA.
Being the sister to Chiney and Nneka, who both play for the Sparks, isn't challenging as they've always given their "unwavering" support.
"I've been blessed because they've experienced almost everything I've wanted to experience," Erica said. "They've been able to help me from high school, college and now whatever I decide to do in the future. It's been more of a blessing than any type of crutch."
The good thing about heading into this WNBA Draft week with a pair of WNBA players under the same roof is you have insight into the process.
Enjoying the moment and controlling what you can control has been their main message, Erica said and they are working out together right now to stay in shape as the draft approaches for her and the 2020 WNBA season for them.
According to one mock draft, they have Erica being taken in the third round with the 34th selection by – the Los Angeles Sparks.
"That'd be a good story, right?" Erica said with a laugh. "Movie-type."
Erica continued: "It would be something that I've never even imagined to be honest. I think since you've said it now, it would be special. If it happens it'll be special. That'd be exciting. I'm keeping my options open and just trying to be ready for any opportunity that presents itself. But that would be cool. I can tell you that would be cool."
The follow-up to the being drafted to your sisters' team was, what if you had to play against them?
"Let me just focus on trying to get drafted first," Erica laughed. "Then I'll focus on those issues later."
The WNBA isn't the only egg in Erica's basket though.
When Erica arrived at Rice University she decided to go pre-med. A few weeks ago, that work paid off as she was accepted into medical school.
"That's what I've worked for my whole academic career when I decided to be pre-med," Erica said. "It was a great testament of how much Rice, the people and resources can help you achieve the best of both worlds.
"I've been excited about medical school, but also about working hard to achieve basketball at the next level. I'm just glad to have options."
So, what field could future Dr. Ogwumike venture into?
"No one in my family does anything medically-related," Erica said. "I'll have a little time to figure that out. A lot of things sound interesting like dermatology or emergency medicine, which are opposites."
The former Cypress Woods and Rice University standout has time to figure that out. This week, though, is the next step of her basketball career.
Which, she will enjoy with her family by her side in Houston.
"I'll just be at the house watching it," Erica said. "Maybe I'll vlog it."