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Sparks select Nnemkadi Ogwumike with first overall pick in WNBA draft

Stanford star forward was the Pac-12 Conference player of the year last season. USC guard Briana Gilbreath is selected 35th overall, by Washington.

April 16, 2012|By Melissa Rohlin
  • Nnemkadi Ogwumike, left, is presented with her new jersey by WNBA President Laurel J. Richie after the Sparks selected Ogwumike with the No. 1 pick in the draft Monday in Bristol, Conn.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, left, is presented with her new jersey by WNBA President… (Jessica Hill / Associated…)

It didn't hit Stanford star Nnemkadi Ogwumike until the WNBA draft Monday when she stood in a studio under the glare of bright lights, surrounded by makeup artists and hairstylists.

"I thought, 'This is really about to happen, I'm really about to be a professional basketball player,' " she said.

A short while later, Ogwumike was selected by the Sparks with the top overall pick in the draft. That's when she was struck by something else.

The 6-foot-2 forward had watched Sparks superstar Candace Parker on television and had often tried to emulate her moves. When Ogwumike heard her name called during Monday's draft, she realized that the object of her analysis would soon become her colleague.

"It's not every day that you get to play with somebody like that," Ogwumike said.

Ogwumike will join a Sparks team that had a record of 15-19 last season and did not reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

She is expected to make an immediate contribution. Ogwumike, the Pac-12 Conference player of the year, is a defense-minded player who can run the court effectively and she led Stanford last season to a fourth straight Final Four appearance while averaging 22.5 points and 10.2 rebounds.

"I think what excites me the most is that she's got a high motor," said first-year Sparks Coach Carol Ross. "Her motor is going to run on both ends of the floor."

Ogwumike said she plans to contribute in any way possible while soaking up the advice of the other post players, including Parker, whose moves she will now be able to dissect from up close.

"I'm just really excited. I'm so happy that L.A. has selected me," Ogwumike said.

With the Sparks' other picks, they chose Farhiya Abdi, a 6-2 forward who has played for Sweden; Khadijah Rushdan, a guard from Rutgers; Tyra White, a guard from Texas A&M; and April Sykes, a swingman from Rutgers. The Sparks open their season May 18 against Seattle.

Tennessee guard Shekinna Stricklen was selected second in the draft by the Seattle Storm. Notre Dame forward Devereaux Peters was selected third by the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx also selected Damiris Dantas of Brazil with the final choice of the first round.

And there were two guards selected from USC in the third round: Jacki Gemelos with the 31st overall pick to Minnesota; and Briana Gilbreath, the 35th pick, to Washington.

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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