WNBA guard or doctor? Erica Ogwumike weighs options during unique time

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·6 min read

It’s unlikely the announcer at Target Center will be bellowing the introduction of “Minnesota Lynx guard Erica Ogwumike, M.D.” To be a professional basketball player and to become a doctor are both such all-consuming pursuits that to do them in tandem would be impossible. Yet Ogwumike has set herself up nicely to choose which one will be her next path.

And as she prepares to vie for a roster spot whenever training camps begin, Ogwumike has a strong fallback option to keep in mind.

The youngest of the four basketball sisters wasn’t chasing the WNBA; it found her. Or, as her older sister Chiney put it, she “finessed” her way into that world. What she was chasing was a pre-med degree and medical school. She had her choice of them after being admitted to nearly every one she applied thanks to a 3.89 GPA at Rice University. All while averaging 19.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for the Conference USA champions.

“Being at a mid-major school you never know when basketball is going to be done for you,” Ogwumike told Yahoo Sports. “It’s just different. So I made sure I had a good plan.

“I didn’t know until recently, maybe earlier this year, that I’d even be a contender for the WNBA draft. So I was focusing on going to medical school, which I think any normal student-athletes would do that to be honest. Just always get ready for the next step. It’s just maybe not as drastic as medical school.”

Ogwumike joins Los Angeles Sparks stars Nneka, 29, and Chiney, 28, as the third sister to be drafted into the WNBA. The New York Liberty took her with the No. 26 overall pick in this month’s draft and traded her to the Lynx, where general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve praised her talents days prior.

It was her sisters who helped lead her down both paths. And amid the COVID-19 crisis, her choice has taken on more meaning.

Coronavirus coverage on Yahoo
Coronavirus coverage on Yahoo

Altruism leads doctors during COVID-19

Ogwumike, 22, chose a pre-med track as a sophomore in college after she and her sister Olivia, 24, transferred from Pepperdine. (Olivia is now pursuing an MBA at Rice.) Rice is less than a mile walk away from Texas Medical Center, the largest medical city in the world, and she was able to shadow physicians in different specialities. What she found was an atmosphere akin to that of sports.

“They pretty much do the same thing as athletes which are teamwork, communication and leadership,” she said. “Of course it seems scary because their expertise is on another level but at the same time I really did feel at home and it felt like something I could do.”

"People always say, I love my job, I’m passionate about it. But I think everyone in the world is seeing really now how much physicians truly mean that.” Erica Ogwumike

She has chronicled part of the journey on her YouTube page, “D1 to DR,” and views her career choice with a new lens now that COVID-19 has brought everything, including the WNBA, to a standstill. League play was originally scheduled to get under way on Friday. Looking back at her medical interviews and time with physicians, she said she feels honored that she has the potential to join their ranks.

“It’s really remarkable now and I just feel really humble to even be in that position,” she said. “Because they’re just working so hard and they’re just doing it with the most important goal, which is just altruism. Just to make people healthy [who] they don’t even know. People always say, ‘I love my job, I’m passionate about it.’ But I think everyone in the world is seeing really now how much physicians truly mean that.”

Ogwumike has chatted to a few friends who are in medical school during the COVID-19 crisis, but hasn’t kept in close touch.

“A lot of physicians I know are busy. When I was shadowing them they barely had time to respond to me in the first place,” Ogwumike said with a laugh.

As of Tuesday there are 4,760 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Houston and 8,176 in Harris County. Nearly 200 people have died and 3,138 combined have recovered. Rice colleges are offering their residential buildings as temporary housing to medical personnel and those affiliated with the school have put their own skills to use in an effort to help.

Ogwumike sisters show sky’s the limit

Rice guard Erica Ogwumike (13) handles the ball in the first half as the Rice University Owls faced the FIU Golden Panthers, on January 11, 2020, at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Former Rice guard Erica Ogwumike has set herself up for a career in the WNBA or as a physician. (Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Ogwumike sisters are a busy — and highly successful — bunch. There’s so much going on that when Erica and Chiney mention to their dad, Peter, they were just on “SportsCenter,” all he says is “OK.”

The breadth of what her oldest sisters add to their plates is what nudged Erica along. They are so involved that when she begins to mention their off-the-court roles, Chiney chimes in from the background of the call to add more.

“Chiney, I would say — honestly Nneka can go with this too — the way she uses her platform as an athlete and as an ESPN broadcaster (has inspired me),” Ogwumike said. “And then Nneka, of course, is the president of the players union. They’ve just been able to — oh yeah, Chiney is vice president, she wants to fact check me — but the way they’ve been able to use their platform to go along with their professional career is something that I think I didn’t realize but it kind of motivated me to do the pre-med thing as well.

“Because I realized you can cater to all your interests. Sky’s the limit. That type of mantra.”

Erica has also worked in leadership by way of a job in the president’s office last semester while a graduate student.

Will it be G or Dr.?

Ogwumike, the shortest of the sisters at 5-foot-9, will have a shot at the Lynx roster when training camps begin — they’re currently postponed indefinitely — but it will be tough just as it is for any third-round selection.

“From a skillset standpoint, she does some things that are really appealing,” Reeve said on a pre-draft conference call when asked about Ogwumike’s chances. “She's somebody that gets fouled at a frequent rate. She’s got a great build. She’s certainly going to have to build the perimeter aspects, not unlike Nneka and Chiney. The difference would be that Erica is a guard so she’s going to need to establish that pretty quickly. But I'm pretty sure you’d love to have her around and I hope she gets an opportunity.”

The Lynx return Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier and add her former UConn teammate in guard Crystal Dangerfield via the draft. Minnesota also added South Carolina forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan with the No. 6 pick.

Sylvia Fowles, the 2017 MVP and two-time WNBA Finals MVP, will anchor the team and Notre Dame alumna Jessica Shepard will see more time after an injury her rookie season. Star point guard Odyssey Sims is expected to miss most of the season while pregnant.