The African community in Colorado is still celebrating one of its illustrious daughters following her selection by the New York Liberty basketball team as the sixth overall all pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft. Born of immigrant Nigerian parents, Edith and Peter Onyenwere, Michaela grew up in Aurora, along with two older brothers. She attended Grandview High school where her passion for basketball was planted, took roots, and blossomed. “I realized I wanted to play basketball around 7th grade, which made me switch schools to a public school. I had tried out volleyball, swimming, track, and basketball. In my first year there, I made the B team, which was the second-best team. I was super excited because it was the first time I would really pick up a basketball. It was at that moment that I knew that basketball was definitely something I wanted to take and run with.” However, this journey didn’t come as a mere walk in the park for the 6-foot forward. In a separate interview, Michaela said, “I wouldn’t have pinned myself being in this position… The coach would sometimes ask in the film room, ‘Who wants to go pro?’ and I never raised my hand.”
But here she is today! For someone who didn’t pin herself as a future pro athlete, her high school sports career was rather extraordinary. As a four-year letter winner in basketball at Grand- view HS, Onyenwere averaged 20.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 steals, 2.5 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game in her senior year. She led Grand- view HS to a 97-10 overall record and a 53-3 mark in the Centennial League during her prep career while compiling a total of 2,291 points and 1,061 rebounds. She was also named Ms. Colorado Basketball, the 5A Girls Basketball Player of the Year, and the Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year for the third straight year. All these colorful feathers landed her on the UCLA women’s basketball team.
Michaela is not just great in basketball; she is an all-rounder. She also dazzles in both athletics and academics. Back in May 2016, she became a Bruin star, finishing second in the 100 meters, third in the 200 meters, fifth in the 400 meters, and fifth in the long jump. She became the Bruins’ leading scorer for the third-straight season in 2021. Michaela and her teammates launched the UCLA women’s basketball’s More Than a D.R.E.A.M. campaign, which is centered around racial justice, following the death of George Floyd last summer.
According to her, freshman year in college was tough and people doubted her abilities initially. She had to lean on her friends and teammates but realizing what was important to her kept her grounded. For her, the most difficult decision she ever had to make was choosing which university to commit to because they all offered great academics and great basketball programs. But at the end of the day, “I think UCLA was the best fit for me because of everything it had to offer. I had a great relationship with the coaching staff as well.”
Michaela was drafted to the New York Liberty on April 15th, 2021. Ac- cording to her, it was one of the best days of her life. Her draft night was virtual, and she and her family and close friends were live-streamed from their home. Two days later, she was on a plane to Brooklyn to start her new life with a new team. Today, Michaela is grateful to all the people who have made her journey to success possible. Though this is just the beginning, she feels the need to say it, “I really appreciate all the support from my parents, my family, my community, but I’m especially grateful to my mom who has sacrificed a lot for me just in general. She is a strong woman that I really look up to genuinely. She is always in my corner, no matter what and I really appreciate and love her.”
On the question of what her motivation has been, she said, “My motivation really comes from just wanting to be the best version of myself in every aspect of my life.”