STANFORD (AP) — Andrew Luck is set to become the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick next month. Stanford pitcher Mark Appel is the likely first choice in June’s amateur baseball draft. That’s already figuring to be quite a feat for the school.
Add women’s basketball star Nnemkadi Ogwumike into the mix as the probable top selection in the WNBA draft, and it very well could be an impressive Cardinal three-fer.
Oddly enough, all three athletes happen to be from the Houston area, though Appel attended high school in the Bay Area.
“If it happens, and that’s a big if, that’s a real tribute to Stanford and the athletic program, and a real tribute to the coaches that they can go to a place like Houston for Andrew and Nneka and get great kids to come from 1,500 miles away,” Luck’s father, Oliver, the athletic director at West Virginia, said Monday before his school’s women’s basketball team lost 72-55 to Ogwumike and top-seeded Stanford in the second round of the NCAA tournament at Norfolk.
A pair of Bay Area pros can relate to just how special it is. Quarterback Alex Smith and newly acquired Golden State Warriors big man Andrew Bogut are connected forever based on both being picked No. 1 from the same school the same year: in 2005 out of Utah.
“That’s amazing,” Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer said of the possibility the Cardinal could do it with three athletes in the coming months.
As former Colts star and four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning moved toward a deal with the Denver Broncos on Monday, his expected replacement in Indianapolis — two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Luck — prepared to show off his skills at Stanford’s pro day on Thursday.
Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby doesn’t want to get his hopes up when it comes to the unpredictability of professional sports drafts.
“If it works out, it would certainly be quite remarkable,” Bowlsby said. “We are very proud to have such high performers within our programs and we are pleased that they project high achievement at the next level as well.”
Appel, Stanford’s hard-throwing 6-foot-5 Friday night starter, is 2-1 with a 3.19 ERA with 40 strikeouts to 10 walks through his first four starts for the Cardinal, who are off until Saturday for finals week.
Earlier this month before a game against Rice, Luck threw out the first pitch as Appel stood in as catcher.
“It says a lot about those two athletes. Luck is very special and Mark Appel is special also,” Cardinal baseball coach Mark Marquess said. “They’re both very humble, very strong academically and impressive young men. We’re very proud of that. A lot has to happen with the baseball. Luck, his job is done. I think the thing with Mark Appel that doesn’t change in pro baseball, whether he wins 12 games or four games, is 97-98 mph. Whether he’ll be the first one or not, he’ll be in the top three or four because he has a tremendous fastball. He has other things, too. He’s a great competitor. It’s exciting. It’s a great time for Stanford.”
Ogwumike has plenty to accomplish before she turns her attention to the WNBA draft. She’s trying to lead the second-ranked Cardinal to a fifth consecutive Final Four and elusive national title. Stanford hasn’t won an NCAA championship since 1992.
She is a big fan of Luck, and has followed Appel’s success, too.
“I think it would just represent the greatness of our school,” Ogwumike said. “Our school doesn’t just bring in great athletes, but great people. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mark Appel but I’m good friends with Andrew and he’s the sweetest guy one could ever meet, not to mention one of them most talented football players in the country.
“I think that would be really, really great if that even happened. Not a lot of schools can say that ever happened to them.”
And Ogwumike has a huge supporter in sophomore sister and teammate, Chiney.
“Stanford has just really put their athletes in an environment where they can shine,” Chiney said. “They do it by not talking about it, but through their actions in school and out of school. We have a talented trio of No. 1 draft picks. I’m the biggest advocate: I think my sister should be No. 1. I’m not afraid to say that, I’ve been waiting to say it for a long time. We know Andrew’s the No. 1 draft pick.”
Appel still must earn that distinction.
Despite the hype, the pitcher is taking a focused approach to the process. He knows he must consistently perform for the second-ranked Cardinal to earn the No. 1 pick.
Getting to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series would be a great start.
“I can’t control who picks me or where I go,” said the right-hander, who regularly hits 97-98 mph on the radar gun. “All I can control is how I play on the field, and that’s going to be my focus. The season comes first and then the draft, and I’m going to focus on the season right now.”
Bogut would be fine if he and Smith had this accomplishment all to themselves.
“Well, it’s history. I hope it doesn’t happen again so I can be the only person to have that acclaim,” Bogut said when formally introduced by the Warriors on Friday night. “It’s something that you aren’t expecting, especially at the time Utah wasn’t a big football school. For him to go, and the hype of me going, it’s something the school is very proud of, I’m very proud of and Alex I’m sure is very proud of it. A Utah Ute fan would probably tell you they’re very proud of it. It’s going to be in the history books forever. It’s a pretty decent achievement.”
And one the Cardinal would like nothing more than to be part of as well.
“It’s all kind of in the back of our minds. We know about it and have heard the talk. It’s pretty cool,” said Stanford third baseman Stephen Piscotty, another projected high draft pick. “I’m also roommates with Mark, so it’s pretty special. He’s a dear friend. I’m happy for him. I know all the talk, it’s not going to affect him. The goal is to get to Omaha this year. If we do that I think he is going to be the No. 1 pick.”