Ogwumike ready to start pro career

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Chiney Ogwumike stood near the free throw line, hands planted firmly on the hips of her 6-foot-4 frame.

Sweat dripped from her braids down to the already-saturated white WNBA headband as she listened to every word leaving Katie Douglas' mouth.

It wouldn't be fair to say Ogwumike was angry. But you better believe she wasn't pleased.

It's rare to see Ogwumike without a smile stretched ear to ear. But after a frustrating practice Monday at the Sun's practice court, the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick sought clarity on the language being used for defensive rotations.

"I'm not Candace Parker, I'm not Tina Charles, I'm not Tamika Catchings," Ogwumike said. "I'm me, and right now I'm trying to figure things out. But one thing is I'm tough and I'm resilient. I know that I'll battle in there, I'm a warrior."

The former Stanford All-American and 2014 Wooden Award winner joins a young, rebuilding team that just lost the face of the franchise. On the same night Connecticut added Ogwumike, it traded Charles, a 25-year-old former MVP and arguably the league's most dominant center, to the New York Liberty. Fair or not, Ogwumike and Charles will be forever linked.

"No one's going to fill Tina's shoes. Tina was the MVP," second-year Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "Chiney is one of a number of moves that we made to help us get better. Not to fill a hole, to help us get better. ... She's not expecting to do that, she's not asking herself to do that. Outsiders may. They may look at that comparison because they're both post players, but the good news is she's a smart kid. She knows better."

The inevitable comparisons to Charles, the immediate success had by past No. 1 overall picks, the urge to help the Sun return to the playoffs -- none of this seems to bother the affable Ogwumike, who deflects the notion she's the franchise savior.

"Every day's a challenge," Ogwumike said. "Every day I'm learning how to do something a little bit better. I'm learning how to make reads, I'm learning how to play with people."

Her demeanor is key. Ogwumike loves to laugh, and it's as genuine as it is contagious. She dominates every room she enters, without effort. Ogwumike would just as soon talk to you about "Game of Thrones" or John Legend as she would the pick-and-roll.

What Donovan truly relishes, though, is Ogwumike's seemingly unquenchable thirst to learn.

"She's hungry to get better. ... She wants to learn," Donovan said. "She's a sponge. She asks for help. She's confident in how she carries herself, but she will ask anybody to help her. I think that's a great sign of a leader, someone that's not afraid to ask for her."

It's not hard to see why Ogwumike, as she did after Monday's practice, often turns to Douglas. The 35-year-old Douglas, who is entering her 14th season and spent the last six with Indiana, is the most experienced player on Connecticut's roster by a wide margin. Sixth-year guard Renee Montgomery, 27, is the next most veteran player. None of the Sun's other players were in the league when Douglas last played for the team in 2007.

"[Ogwumike's] hunger and her desire to learn has just been exceptional and remarkable and something that's stood out for me," Douglas said.

The Sun also acquired forward Alyssa Thomas in the Charles trade and selected guard Chelsea Gray in the second round. Half of the team's players are in their first or second year in the league.

Ogwumike immediately gives the Sun an inside presence, both offensively and defensively. She can score with her back to the basket or face up from mid-range, which for a 6-4, 175-pound forward can present matchup nightmares.

Ogwumike's basketball skills and résumé are undeniable. She was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year each of the last two seasons, and holds the conference's all-time rebounding record. The Cardinal reached the Final Four in three of Ogwumike's four years at the school. Ogwumike also led Cypress Fairbanks High School to a pair of Texas state championships before her time at Stanford.

Donovan cautiously compared Ogwumike's build and skillset to a "young Candace Parker." Douglas kept her comparison a little more personal.

"How about Nneka [Ogwumike]? Is that too obvious?" Douglas said with a laugh. "I think their games are pretty similar. Nneka came in and had a tremendous rookie season and I expect nothing but the same from Chiney."

Nneka, Chiney's older sister, made an immediate impact for the Los Angeles Sparks as a rookie two seasons ago, averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds per game en route to Rookie of the Year honors. With Chiney's selection in April, the two sisters joined Peyton and Eli Manning as the only siblings in professional sports history to be selected No. 1 overall.

"It's something we'll look back on," Chiney said. "I think it's a pretty cool thing to say, that we only have something in common with two other people in the world right now."

Chiney has had plenty to soak up while playing out of position at the center spot. Donovan said the team drafted her to play power forward. But with second-year center Kelsey Bone, acquired from the Liberty in the Charles trade, playing for Galatasaray OdeaBank during its run to the Turkish Championship Cup, Ogwumike has spent most of the Sun's two-week training camp at the pivot.

Between Donovan and assistant coach Jennifer Gillom, Ogwumike receives daily instruction from a pair of Women's Basketball Hall of Famers.

"[I'm] in post heaven for learning," she said before flashing a smile.

Ogwumike, an international relations major at Stanford, is studying for the GRE with an eye toward graduate school, but said her top personal goal is to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. She has won gold medals with the U-18 team and the World University Games team, the latter of which came side-by-side with Nneka.

That's all down the road. For now, Chiney is still getting acclimated to southeastern Connecticut, which has been a change from Texas and California. A Sun staffer has suggested a visit to the historical "10-mile drive" in Newport, R.I. Kalana Greene, Chiney's teammate until being claimed Wednesday off waivers by the Washington Mystics, plans to take Ogwumike fishing for the first time in her life on the Thames River. And, of course, there's that pizza place.

"They said I have to go get some Mystic Pizza," Chiney joked.

The Sun open the season Friday at home against -- of course -- the Liberty. So the comparisons between Chiney and Charles will start in earnest from the opening tipoff, at least for fans and media. Not so much for Donovan.

"[She's] everything [I hoped for] and then some," Donovan said. "Just one of the best kids I've ever worked with. ... She is the real deal."