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STANFORD, Calif. – Chiney Ogwumike is strolling across Stanford's campus on a spectacular sunny morning when two 16-year-old girls from the Seattle area on a college visit recognize her at the landmark spot of Hoover Tower.
"Aren't you the basketball player?" a giddy Lola Oyetuga asks, standing alongside friend Constance Hosannah.
Yes, that's her — the Pac-12's leading scorer and one of the biggest stars in women's basketball. The girls' lucky day, indeed, as Ogwumike walks right up and spends some 10 minutes chatting.
They happened to be at the Feb. 9 game in Seattle against Washington, a rare Stanford loss. Ogwumike greets them with the same enthusiasm she shows both strangers and friends everywhere she goes, reaching out her hand for a high-five and asking them to pose for a picture. She promises to stay in touch on Twitter and Instagram, and she truly means it — reminding them Stanford will be back in the Pacific Northwest for the Pac-12 tournament next month.
"OK, I wish we played at Washington again, I would have left you tickets," she says.
With Ogwumike's record-setting collegiate basketball career on its final countdown, and her graduation date approaching, she is cherishing every moment of student life — moments like these special chance meetings that can make a difference in someone else's life just because Ogwumike is being herself.
"I have a megawatt smile, it's huge," she says. "My mom's like, 'Tone it down.'"
With the fifth-ranked Cardinal on the cusp of a 14th consecutive regular-season conference championship this week, Ogwumike offers a glimpse of her memorable four-year stretch on The Farm. From the famous Ike's Place sandwich shop on campus where she once sent an opposing team on the lookout for a good meal, to her preferred library because "the focus levels are so much higher." There's her newfound preference for Thai cuisine — yellow curry with chicken is a regular pick at her spot in History Corner — when it used to be only Chinese food. She points to the different buildings where a professor, mentor or adviser works — such as her academic adviser, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
This is it for Ogwumike. She is doing some reflecting along the way while keeping her attention on the moment and the goals she hopes to achieve before she's through.
"Everything's coming full circle," she says. "It's the last 10 games or so, all of the work has been put in, athletically and academically."
Ogwumike will play her final two Pac-12 home games next week against Washington and Washington State, then she hopes the Cardinal will be back at Maples Pavilion for the NCAA Stanford regional from March 29-April 1.
"Six games," she says of the remaining schedule at Maples, before quickly correcting herself. "No, four. Oh my goodness, it's on one hand. It's sort of sad. It is what it is."
Ogwumike certainly expects to lead her team on one last memorable March run, especially after Stanford's streak of five straight Final Four trips ended last spring.
Her thought about that? "Oh, snap!"
Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer and her program are preparing to move on without an Ogwumike sister for the first time in seven years, a transition VanDerveer knows will be among the hardest she has faced in her 35-year career with players heading to the next level of women's basketball or into the working world.
"I personally think it's Chiney's leadership that makes her special," VanDerveer says. "No matter how things are going, she plays really hard. From the day she got on campus, she has been a warrior. She has evolved into a great player. ... Just her competitiveness, she has drive. When I'm looking out there in warmups, I'm just thinking, 'I'm glad she's wearing Stanford and not anything else.'"
Ogwumike played two seasons with older sister Nneka, the 2012 No. 1 WNBA draft pick by the Los Angeles Sparks.
Much of Chiney Ogwumike's appeal has been her approachability at a university where the talent in so many academic fields — and on sporting fields and courts — is humbling even to the International Relations major who spent six weeks in her parents' native Nigeria last spring to be an intern with the Minister of Petroleum. Her studies are focused on Africa, with a secondary emphasis in comparative international governance.
"I thrive around people, I thrive off of people's energy," she says. "It's been really cool. The university asked us to leave our legacy as players. I was like, 'Nneka, what's our legacy going to be?' I don't think we even need to explain it. ... We are fun people, we love being student-athletes and we love the opportunity we had coming to Stanford."