Home PoliticsAfrica News From medical school to the Olympics: Erica Ogwumike is making it a summer to remember

From medical school to the Olympics: Erica Ogwumike is making it a summer to remember

by Dan Woike

Now this is how you do a study abroad program.

If the summer between her first and second year of medical school is indeed the last summer she’ll ever have off in her life, Erica Ogwumike might have found the most interesting way to spend it.

She’s playing basketball in the Olympics.

Her hoop dreams on pause during the pandemic, Ogwumike decided to attend medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas while continuing to train for the Olympics.

And Tuesday, she made it. Ogwumike played four minutes in an 81-72 loss to the U.S. women’s team before heading back to the Olympic Village for more flash card drills and medical research projects.

“The hardest thing is probably just, you know, making sure you know that school comes first regardless,” she said.

Even in the Olympics.

The moment is sweet, but it could’ve been sweeter for the youngest of one of America’s most prolific basketball families with four children of Nigerian-born parents finding success on and off the court.

Two of her older sisters, Nneka and Chiney, play for the Los Angeles Sparks. Another, Olivia, has an MBA and is chasing a doctorate in public policy. All four girls played Division 1 basketball.

The story could’ve been even better, but controversy kept Ogwumike from enjoying these Games with Nneka and Chiney.

After Nneka failed to make the U.S. women’s team — they cited a knee injury but whispers of politics within the organization persist — she attempted to join Erica on the Nigerian national team. FIBA, basketball’s governing body, denied the request citing Nneka’s experience on the American national team throughout her career. Chiney was allowed to play for Nigeria as a “naturalized” citizen but declined.

Following the U.S. women’s victory on Tuesday, American star Diana Taurasi said she wasn’t keen on seeing Nneka in a Nigerian jersey because “I’ve seen her wear the USA jersey a lot.”

Taurasi, who has an Argentine mother, then quipped that she would like to someday play soccer for her mother’s country.

U.S. coach Dawn Staley said the Olympics would be better with as many of the sport’s best players competing as possible. And Nneka Ogwumike, a former WNBA MVP and multi-time All-Star, would certainly qualify.

“How you accomplish that is the difficult part,” Staley said. “Would it have been fun to play against all the Ogwumikes? Absolutely. But that didn’t happen. We’re left with wondering. But I’m sure they’ll find a way on the court to represent Nigeria as they aspire to.”

The hope is all three Ogwumikes compete together in future international competitions pending Nneka’s appeal.

“I’m very confident that I’ll be able to play with them in the future. I definitely wanted to experience this with them,” Erica said. “Being first the Olympian in my family… it was supposed to be Nneka. We know that.

“But I’m very fortunate that I can be here and represent my whole family. And they’re really supportive of me.”

Erica, 23, was incredibly close to joining her older sisters in the WNBA, selected in the third round of the 2020 draft and traded to Minnesota. But with no training camps due to the pandemic, she was eventually waived.

Overseas play was an option, but so was her future career. And she picked medical school.

She chronicled her journey, balancing the pre-sunrise workouts with the course load on her YouTube vlog. After studying, she’d get to a gym for a basketball specific workout before diving back into her studying.

Even in Japan, she’s spending time with “Anki” — a software flash card program popular among medical students. She’s unsure which field she’ll ultimately pursue, though dermatology is a strong candidate.

She’s kept her word to herself, not letting basketball get in the way of school. She left one training camp practice earlier this year because of a cardiology lecture. She missed an entire day of training because of commitments to a hematology class.

The flash cards, the lectures, the notes, the Zoom calls, the tired eyes and the sisters back home — it all has hit her throughout these Games. That’s her foundation.

It comes everywhere with her.

“It’s hard not to think retrospectively, like everything that I’ve gone through, everything that I missed, just to get those moments, you know, all the work that I love,” Erica Ogwumike said. “And so whenever you have these amazing moments, the opening ceremony, different big events and things you can sit back like, ‘Wow, you know, I did that.’

“I’m really proud of myself to get to this moment.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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