Michelle Smith Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Feature: UCLA's Michaela Onyenwere
Michaela Onyenwere has learned to adapt.
She used to be a paper note-taker, thought the information stuck in her brain a little better when she wrote it down during class.
But now, taking her online classes remotely, she’s embraced the merits of laptop notes.
“It’s just a lot easier,” said the UCLA Bruins senior forward.
A lot of things have been adapted this season for Onyenwere, her teammates and coaches, as they have been for pretty much every team across the country.
“I just feel lucky to be playing,” Onyenwere said. “There have been a lot of unknowns, but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. We’ve been resilient and we’ve sacrificed a lot to be here.”
There is no question that this isn’t the senior season that Onyenwere imagined after what she calls “the best three years of my life” at UCLA.
“She will definitely tell you this isn’t what she signed up for,” said UCLA coach Cori Close.
But the Colorado native with the powerful, athletic game is making the best of the situation for a Bruins team that is 5-2 in the Pac-12, 7-2 overall and ranked No. 8 in the country. And Onyenwere, with her 18.7 point scoring average and 8.4 rebounds a game, is looking like an All-American candidate and a top WNBA draft pick, should she decide that this will be her final collegiate season.
Close said that Onyenwere is “finding her momentum this season.”
“I think she started a little slowly, but I feel like she is finding her way,” Close said.
Onyenwere has been orienting herself to a new reality since the end of last season, when the NCAA Tournament was canceled and players were sent home to shelter-in-place.
“To have all that time, I didn’t know what to do with myself,” Onyenwere said. “Usually, I had practice and meetings and class and I was really missing having that routine at school. As time went out, it felt kind of freeing. And then I started to feel like I wanted to get back to some sort of structure.”
Onyenwere is taking the final classes for her undergraduate degree. But whether she is playing in her final college season is still to be determined. The NCAA has offered winter sports athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. She, like other seniors around the country, is seriously considering whether she might want to return for a fifth season.
“First and foremost, I commend the NCAA for making that decision. It’s been such a weird college experience this year,” Onyenwere said. “I know I feel like I’m not getting the most out of it because of the way it’s going.”
Onyenwere has an opportunity to get her masters degree if she stays another year. She also has an opportunity to be a high draft pick in the WNBA.
“Do I pursue my professional career, or potentially stay and have the opportunity of a lifetime to get my masters at UCLA,” Onyenwere said. “This will never happen in another year. But it’s also an amazing opportunity to be a part of the WNBA, and join a league doing amazing things. That’s the wrestle.”
Onyenwere doesn’t want to talk about it much. She said she wants to “live in the moment, since this might be my last year.”
Close said that she and assistant coach Shannon Perry-LeBeauf have dinner with Onyenwere once a month as a kind of check-in.
“There is no pressure on her from us, we just want to know how we can support her,” Close said. “I know it’s difficult for her. It’s a big decision.”
Onyenwere said she has been talking to her mother, as well as her former AAU coach. But that she hasn’t felt overwhelmed by it. She knows she will have a narrow window to make her decision when the season ends.
“I can’t sit and dwell on everything that’s happened this year, even though this is not what I signed up for,” Onyenwere said. “I definitely feel lucky to be health and to be able to play. I’m focusing on that.”