June 24, 2021 

Los Angeles Sparks react to Nneka Ogwumike’s exclusion from 2021 Olympic team

'She should be on that team'

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Derek Fisher. (WNBA Media Central)

After being pushed back a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympics are scheduled to take place this summer, and this week the roster for the USA Women’s National Team was announced.

And the Los Angeles Sparks see a glaring omission: forward Nneka Ogwumike.

Playing for Team USA in the Olympics is an honor that for whatever reason, Ogwumike has been passed over for her entire career. During the 2016 Olympics, the year she won league MVP and helped lead the Sparks to the WNBA championship, she was also not selected.

At a recent shootaround following the news, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher didn’t hold back when asked about his star player’s exclusion. On Tuesday afternoon, Fisher called the decision a “freaking travesty,” and that the Sparks organization was upset.

On Wednesday morning, Fisher elaborated on his comments from the previous day.

“It’s just unfortunate that again a player of her caliber, her stature, what she means and has meant to this game, now for the third time is being looked over,” Fisher said. “Most national teams, from my memory they take one college player or one player that’s early in her career that is probably going to be really good, that would’ve been Nneka in 2012. In 2016 she was as good as anybody in the league, didn’t get that opportunity. I think this was the opportunity that was well deserved and it didn’t happen. We got her back though and we’ll figure out how to make the most of an unfortunate and difficult situation for her.”

Ogwumike remains the only player to have won a WNBA MVP award and to have never been selected for an Olympic roster spot. She’s played for Team USA in the past in FIBA competition and has been a regular for the past five years at Team USA camps.

She’s also become one of the most recognizable faces of women’s basketball especially when it comes to being a leader with her duties as the president of the players association. She’s one of the most decorated players in WNBA history with six All-Star appearances, four All-WNBA team selections, and four defensive team selections in addition to her league MVP and championship.

Current teammate Karlie Samuelson, who has played with Ogwumike almost every season she’s been in the WNBA, came to her teammate’s defense as well at Wednesday morning shootaround.

Like Ogwumike, Samuelson went to Stanford for college and they have not had an alumni named to the Olympic roster since Jennifer Azzi and Katy Steding back during the 1996 Olympics when the school’s head coach Tara Vanderveer was the Olympic head coach.

“I know coming from Stanford, the quality of players that come out of there. I can’t imagine how she must feel. Nneka deserves to be on this team,” Samuelson said. “If I had to pick one person, with her leadership qualities, her talent and just who she is as a person, ten times out of ten I would pick Nneka to be on the team. . .We as her teammates are here for her. She should be on the team.”

Ogwumike is currently sidelined with a knee injury and the projected timetable of four to six weeks recovery from the time she was diagnosed on June 3 would place her back on the court before Team USA’s first game on July 27. According to Fisher, Team USA officials had been monitoring Ogwumike’s injury the past couple of weeks and were regularly in contact with her.

While Ogwumike has not yet commented publicly on the matter, her teammates have spoken with her and have said she remains in good spirits despite the decision. Te’a Cooper, who has played with Ogwumike since last season, believes that she fits whatever criteria necessary for an Olympic spot.

“Nneka is positive, Nneka is optimistic, Nneka is unbothered. She knows, she believes in herself, we believe in her, she knows that she deserved to be there. Just because they don’t see it, doesn’t mean the people that matter to her don’t,” Cooper said. “It’s kind of disrespectful to her, all she does for basketball period on and off the court. I think she is an Olympian personified. . .For them not to do that multiple times, at this point it’s just disrespectful. What more can she do, what more does she have to do?”

Written by David Yapkowitz

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