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There’s nothing that this MVP basketball player can’t do

How discipline and organization has prepared Nneka Ogwumike for success, on and off the basketball court.

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Let’s put it right out there: Nnemkadi (Nneka) Ogwumike is awesome. The Stanford grad and one-time aspiring orthodontist (yes, you read that right) was the number-one WNBA draft pick in 2012. Today’s she’s one of the most powerful people in women’s basketball. She hasn’t just played professionally on three continents—she’s won championships on all three, too. She’s a seven-year pro, playing power forward for the Los Angeles Sparks, and she’s the president of the players’ union, the Women’s National Basketball Players’ Association (WNBPA).

The 2016 WNBA Finals MVP was on her way to orthodontia after graduation before her younger sister (and Stanford basketball teammate) Chiney suggested she think about entering the WNBA draft. Ogwumike credits Chiney, as well as Stanford head women’s basketball coach Tara Vanderveer and her coaching staff, with helping her think through her options once her collegiate playing days were behind her.

True to her style, Ogwumike asked for guidance, yet kept her own counsel on the decisions that mattered most to her. In the end, she went for it, and the rest is history. She earned the number one draft pick, a 2016 WNBA Finals title, and that MVP trophy for, among other brilliant plays, making the title-winning shot at the buzzer in Game 5 of the 2016 WNBA Finals. Hard to believe this is a woman who once thought the pinnacle of professional success would be straightening teeth.

Her path to pro success has taken her, like many of her colleagues, overseas to play in well-paying pro leagues during the WNBA offseason. In Russia, Ogwumike starred for Dynamo Kursk for four seasons; in China, she’s tossed baskets for Guangdong in the WCBA league. And in her hometown of Houston, Texas, she holds her Nigerian roots close as she begins to think about life after basketball and making a home for herself in a place other than hotel rooms and spartan apartments. Her mom and dad, Ify and Peter, raised in Nigeria and members of the Igbo tribe, helped Ogwumike and her three sisters with early lessons on preparedness.

“Especially in Nigeria, [people of] the Igbo culture are known to be hard workers,” Ogwumike says. “They’re known to prepare and set themselves up for opportunities. That’s definitely been implemented in all four of us [by our parents].”

One of the misconceptions of pro athlete life is that they all must have their financial futures in great shape, with the six-figure (or more) annual incomes they can command just by signing a rookie contract. But that’s often not the case.

“We don’t get [enough] financial tutoring or training as athletes,” Ogwumike admits. “We’re just used to [thinking] of buying it outright. Well, what kind of credit is that going to build me? Buying my car first [before a home] was smarter because I had already started building that credit up for over a year before going into buying my home.”

“Growing up, we had always been told about saving,” she continues. “We’ve always been told about how you earn your own money — and allocating it in different ways and saving it for certain instances and being able to pay for your bills and understanding that dynamic. I think by the time my homebuying process came about, I knew how to research for those things because I had that experience and I had those role models in my life that helped me understand the different aspects of buying, purchasing, renting, leasing, [and] loans.”

Ogwumike brings the same level of controlled discipline to her financial life as she has to her athletic one. Every day, she follows a similar regimen: meals are planned out, workouts are consistent, sleep is prioritized. And when she was ready to buy her own home, Ogwumike took advice first from her mother, and then from family members whom she brought around to look at her favorite Houston-area properties — once she’d narrowed down her choices, that is. First, it was all Ogwumike.

“I did the house-hunting basically on my own,” she recalls. “I wanted to make sure that I knew where I wanted to be.”

When it came time to make that all-important first home purchase, Ogwumike reached out to the professionals at Chase for financing, a move she says made the process of closing her home purchase as smooth as it could be.

“It was amazing—the Chase team was awesome,” Nneka remembers. “They still are. And I’m just very grateful and blessed to have had the experience that I had and continue to [have with Chase].”

If her car purchase was akin to entering the draft — a statement of Ogwumike’s emergence as an adult taking control over her own finances and beginning to develop a credit history — did her recent home purchase in Houston feel more like winning the WNBA Finals, or making the title-winning basket?

“Getting my car was like how I felt when I got my MVP trophy, but then shooting the basket was how I felt when I bought my house!” she laughs.

“[Signing your home purchasing documents], you’re here because you’re almost celebrating something,” Ogwumike remembers. “It occurred to me that it was a celebration. My mom was there, my godfather was there. They had been with me throughout the whole process and it was finally time to put pen to paper and I was signing the documents. My mom brought flowers and when I had finished signing the documents, I received my keys. It just felt really empowering and it felt as though I had kind of, in a way, materialized my success.”

“As I progress and reach different moments in my life, I’m always very organized, and I’m always prepared for anything,” Ogwumike continues. That’s a testament to a life of discipline and purpose — lessons that anyone can take to heart, regardless of whether you can slam dunk a basketball like Nneka.

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