The Next Step: Former Cy Woods, Rice star Erica Ogwumike talks WNBA, medical school, family
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.
Nneka and Chiney won a state championship at Cy-Fair High School – where they have since had their No. 13 and No. 30 jersey's retired – followed by Erica at Cy Woods in 2015.
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.#OgwumikeOutpic.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."