Onyenwere Wins WNBA Rookie of the Year Award
New York City – New York Liberty forward and UCLA great Michaela Onyenwere has been named the WNBA's Rookie of the Year, the league office announced Tuesday. She becomes the first alumna of the UCLA Women's Basketball program to earn the award and the first Bruin basketball player since Jamaal Wilkes in 1975 to be named Rookie of the Year.
"I am so happy for Michaela," said The Michael Price Family UCLA Women's Head Basketball Coach Cori Close. "It is a great story. Work extremely hard, build your skill development toolbox every year, train your mind, always put the team first – and great things happen. That is truly how Michaela earned this honor and it is a great roadmap for others to follow. I'm so proud of who she is as, well as all she has accomplished."
Onyenwere was selected by the Liberty with the sixth overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft. She started 29 of 32 games for New York and went on to lead all rookies in scoring with 8.6 points per game. She notched nine double-digit scoring performances, including a 29-point outing against the Atlanta Dream on May 29. Onyenwere was third among rookies with 2.9 rebounds per contest and secured a career-high 10 boards against the Minnesota Lynx on Aug. 31. She was also the only first-year player to appear in all 32 regular-season games for her team.
UCLA junior guard Charisma Osborne was teammates with Onyenwere during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. She was thrilled when Onyenwere earned Rookie of the Year and offered an outpouring of support:
"I'm so proud of Michaela for winning Rookie of the Year," said Osborne. "She works so hard at everything she does while being the humblest person and best teammate, so I'm not surprised that she got Rookie of the Year! She is so deserving of this award. She has always been someone I've looked up to and I'm so grateful I had the chance to play with her for two years. I'm so happy for her!"
The Liberty finished the regular season at 12-20, compiling 10 more wins than in 2020. New York earned the eighth seed in WNBA Playoffs and fell in a heartbreaking 83-82 loss to the Phoenix Mercury. It was the first playoff appearance for New York since 2017.
Onyenwere graduated from UCLA in 2021 as one of the greatest players in program history. She helped lead the Bruins to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite 8 run in 2018 and a Sweet 16 berth in 2019. She finished as the fourth all-time leading scorer at UCLA with 1,888 points and ranks eighth in program history in total rebounds with 885. She earned All-Pac-12 acclaim in each of her final three collegiate seasons and was the first Bruin to earn multiple AP All-America honors (2020, 2021). The Aurora, Colo., native also co-founded UCLA Women's Basketball's More Than a D.R.E.A.M. initiative, which serves to educate audiences on Black history and social justice efforts, as well as foster an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe, seen, and heard.