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Nneka Ogwumike says USA Basketball used her injury as an ‘excuse’

Sparks forward and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike (Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)

Nneka Ogwumike is still shocked that she’s not in Tokyo right now.

Whether it be competing for the United States or Nigeria, the former WNBA MVP asserts that she “never thought I’d be in this position.”

After USA Basketball controversially passed her over in picking their Olympic roster, Ogwumike largely remained silent but nonetheless pushed forward. She petitioned to play for Nigeria, only to be denied by FIBA and the CAS.

“I haven’t been public at all with my thoughts,” she told ESPN. “I’m not going to lie, it’s been an emotional month — a lot of crying, a lot of just wanting to be alone. But in the midst of all that, it’s amazing to see how many people support me.”

As one of eight core players for USA Basketball in 2019-20, Ogwumike led the team in scoring and was the MVP of the FIBA women’s qualifying tournament. It seemed as though she was a lock for the Olympic team.

But then she suffered a minor knee injury in a game on June 1. At that time, she was reassured by women’s national team director Carol Callan that both her and Diana Taurasi — who has yet to return from injury — wouldn’t be hindered by their injuries in the decision making.

“Carol was like, ‘Oh, well you and Diana [Taurasi] will be fresh,” Ogwumike said.

But then the roster was released, and Ogwumike wasn’t on it. When Callan called her with the decision, Ogwumike told ESPN she was stunned.

“She said that the committee, they weren’t sure about my injury and that they wanted to go with a younger, more versatile player,” Ogwumike says. “That was the reasoning that they gave me over the phone.”

Based on the communication Los Angeles Sparks trainer Courtney Watson had with USA Basketball about Ogwumike’s process, the reasoning didn’t add up.

“It almost felt as though that excuse was now attacking the integrity of my care,” she said. “Like, if [she’s] not on the team, is she more hurt than we think she is?’

“But I was very transparent with what happened and my prognosis. Courtney communicated with them… I just think there was a lot of backtracking once the decision was made.”

For now, Ogwumike is focused on Nigeria moving forward. She hopes that eventually her appeal to the CAS will move forward and that soon she will be able to play for the country for which she holds dual-citizenship.

“There’s just so many prominent Africans and Nigerians that are doing some really great things,” she said. “If I can help break the ceiling, then I think that we can see the true mission of what we all play for: to move forward. Sports move us forward.”

She finished by saying that the hard work she has put in up until this point “is going to show for something… And if it means going in another direction — that’s what it means.”