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Nneka Ogwumike roster drama doesn’t distract U.S. in win over Nigeria

Sisters, from left, Erica Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike look on during a Nigeria exhibition game.
Sisters, from left, Erica Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike and Nneka Ogwumike look on during an exhibition game between Nigeria and the U.S. on July 18. Nneka Ogwumike was barred from playing for Nigeria in the Tokyo Olympics because of her extensive history with Team USA.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Some of the conversation following the U.S. women’s basketball team’s 50th straight win in Olympic play was pointed at a player left off the team, Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike.

After being left off the U.S. squad (team officials cited a knee injury), Ogwumike attempted to play for the Nigerian team in the Tokyo Olympics; she and her sisters are dual citizens. The request was denied because of her history playing for the American team. The decision is being appealed.

Tuesday, the U.S. defeated Nigeria 81-72, returning attention to the roster controversy that preceded the competition.

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Ogwumike’s parents are Nigerian, her youngest sister Erica plays for the team and her other sister and Sparks teammate, Chiney, was cleared to join the team as a “naturalized” citizen. Chiney declined.

Asked if she would’ve liked to have seen Nneka Ogwumike in a Nigerian uniform in their Olympic opener, U.S. star Diana Taurasi quipped that she’s already seen Ogwumike in a Team USA uniform quite a bit.

“I’d like to wear the Argentina jersey one day,” Taurasi, the daughter of an Argentinian mother, joked.

Asked if it was good for basketball if players who played American college basketball played for other nations to grow the game, she quickly responded.

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“Yeah, I guess if they’re from there it’s cool,” she said.

In an interview with ESPN, Ogwumike said she’s been disappointed to miss these Olympics, especially after being assured by USA Basketball personnel that she would be a part of the team. She participated in qualifying and training camps before being left off the final roster.

The roster selection drama didn’t get in the way of a fairly strong performance from the Americans at Saitama Sports Arena. A 23-0 run in the second quarter helped them control an aggressive Nigerian team that forced 25 turnovers.

A’Ja Wilson led the U.S. with 19 points. Taurasi scored 10 to open her fifth straight Olympic games.

“It’s years of work to get here,” the Chino native said. “I think that’s the one thing that’s the most satisfying. You don’t just show up on this team and you get to play. You’ve got to earn your stripes.

“It means a lot to be here.”

U.S. coach Dawn Staley said it would be good for the sport if all of the world’s best were in Japan competing.

“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.”

Erica Ogwumike, who played four minutes in her Olympic debut, said the plan is for all three sisters to compete together down the road.

“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 Ogwumike 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.”


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