Don’t Count Us Out

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You don’t realize how legendary Barclays Center is until you walk the halls of it. In the heart of downtown, where we get to play, some of the greatest musicians have performed. I’m talking about ...

Beyoncé. JAY Z. Rihanna.

I’m talking about anybody who’s anybody has been in Barclays.

Just walking from the locker room onto the floor and seeing all the legends surrounding the walls of the arena, it gets you ready. It reminds you that you have a level of greatness to achieve.

New York is special. I’m from Colorado so that’s always going to be home, and I obviously got love for L.A. too.... But I can’t lie — Brooklyn is the coolest city. The best fans, not to mention the best arena in the world.

I still remember my first game in the W on that court — it was against Indiana.

I was NERVOUS. I literally had to go do yoga to calm myself down before the game because I was just so ready to go out there. My name gets called in the starting lineup, and at this point I’m just ready to get the game going.

There really aren’t any dos or don’ts anyone warned me about coming in as a rookie, but I did something that still to this day I’m trying to figure out why.

Brooklyn is the coolest city. The best fans, not to mention the best arena in the world.Michaela Onyenwere

First game of the season. First game of my WNBA career. Tip-off goes and I get the ball.

And what do I do? I shoot this longggg three-pointer…. I had to be at least two feet away from the three-point line!! Lol.

I mean, you gotta picture it. First shot ever in the W, and I’m sitting there — ball in mid air — like, Michaela, what are you doing, girl?

SPLASH.

Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images
Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

To my surprise, the shot went in, and I’m just running down the court like “O.K.!! We’re here. Let’s do this.”

That really sums up how I’ve always approached the game. I try not to think too much about it and just play. I try to control the things that I can control, which is how hard I play every night on the floor.

I’ve never been one to really play into the hype about things. Even in high school when I started getting recruited, I HATED the recruitment process.

Not because I didn’t want to play or because I didn’t like hearing from coaches, but because all I wanted to do was play ball.

That’s it.

When you’re getting recruited it’s constant nonstop phone calls, text messages. But I was just focused on hoopin’.

So, I made my list of schools: Duke, Arizona State, Tennessee…. And, of course, UCLA.

Let me tell y’all right now…. Once I stepped on that UCLA campus, it was like a perfect fit. The vision the coaches saw for me and the team was enough for me to know that I was meant to be a Bruin.

There’s something special about that Bruin Blue.

Wearing that jersey brought a lot of really great moments, especially competing in the Pac-12, but I think one of my favorite moments was my final year when we faced off against Oregon, and I had a career-high. We ALWAYS wanted to beat Oregon. And I mean ALWAYS (just ask Sabrina lol).

Anyway, the season ends, and it’s time to decide if I’m going to stay another year or leave.

It was crazy because before I could even decide what I was going to do I started to hear all this chatter. Nothing but doubts from skeptics. I heard it all.

But I was O.K. with being an underdog. Honestly it’s better that way.

I opted out and now I’m hearing everyone talk about where I could go in the draft. I’m trying to block it out, but then while I’m scrolling on social media, it’s just inevitable — I’m seeing mock drafts pop up and everything. I tried to put everyone on a media blackout — even my coach. I just did NOT want to hear it. It was an overwhelming process and I honestly wanted no parts of it at the time.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

So draft day comes along, and I wake up soooo nervous.

Not just regular nervous but that type of nervous where you’re just so excited you want to cry … yup, that was me.

I’m in Colorado with my entire family at my draft party, we got the whole spread. Balloons, food, and tons of people. I’m sitting there in the living room with my makeup and hair done, just waiting for the draft to start. Still nervous. All the TV monitors and cameras are set up waiting for my reaction when they call my name.

Everyone keeps asking me, “Where do you think you’re going?” I’m just like “IDK!!” Lol.

The first few picks go, and then I started to hear from my agent, Allison, that I could go anywhere from pick 5 to 12 … which didn’t help how anxious I already was.

New York rolls around with pick 6 and they’re on the clock, and I get this text from Allison saying, “This will probably be it.”

I’m just sitting there waiting, still prepared if they don’t call my name.

Then I heard them say “Michaela Onyenwere, and I went CRAZY! My whole family went crazy! We were so happy to know I would be joining the Liberty.

But, there was one person on earth who was even happier than me ...

MY GRANDMA LOL

I know y’all didn’t forget. Yes, that was my grandma going crazy in the background when Holly Rowe was interviewing me. She asked to see my mom’s jacket, and before I knew it my grandma got up and started doing her dance, saying “I’m the grandma.” Hahaha. The thing people don’t understand is that my grandma is Nigerian, so this wasn’t something for the cameras. That’s just her 24/7 365.

What they captured on TV that day is her all the time: The star of the show.

She’s the cutest ever. I love her so much because in a matter of hours she was going viral. I came back to my phone after some meetings and interviews and everyone was blowing my phone up.

“Hey, is this your grandma on TMZ?”

“The Shade Room just posted your grandma.”

It couldn’t have been a better way for draft night to end. I get to play in New York and my grandma becomes known all around the world just for being herself hahaha.

And no one let me forget it either, not even fans in New York.

I got off the plane and people were asking me “Hey, aren’t you that girl who was on TV with their grandma going crazy in the background?”

Yup, that’s her.

Really, how my grandma acted was how I felt just about being in New York with this team.

I was excited.

But I had no time to keep celebrating because I had just got to New York less than 48 hours after hearing my name get called and I had a couple days of quarantine.

How my grandma acted was how I felt just about being in New York with this team. Michaela Onyenwere

Then the work started, right into individual workouts and getting ready for training camp, which was right around the corner. That eagerness I had translated right into the season.

Throughout the entire season you could tell how excited we were to play with each other and just grow as the season progressed. We know we’re one of the younger teams in the league, but we always competed. It showed even after we had that losing streak at the end of the season and were waiting to see if we would get into the playoffs. We just needed an opportunity. We didn’t care who it was against.

Once we saw we had Phoenix, we all just told each other, “Let’s go.

We knew we had nothing to lose and everything to gain from just competing like we always do.

I love this team because we have this never quit mentality. You give us a chance, O.K., we’ll prove to you why you don’t want to count us out. We’re still growing, but we play our hearts out every game.

Making the playoffs for the first time since 2017 was big. Me and Didi looked at each other in the locker room and asked everyone, “What’s the one thing that was missing since 2017?”

Everyone just looked around the room and we’re like … US! Lol the vets were just like, “shut up” haha but that’s how our team is. So much personality and life.

You give us a chance, O.K., we’ll prove to you why you don’t want to count us out.Michaela Onyenwere

Leading up to that last practice before we played Phoenix there was some talk that I could win Rookie of the Year. Again, I try not to pay attention to that stuff. To be real, I didn’t even really know they were about to announce it. One of the only awards I have ever really patted myself on the back for was becoming a McDonald’s All-American. (And by the way, guess who my roommate was for the All-American game. Didi Richards. How ironic, right?)

But, we’re all standing in practice, I'm in the middle of the logo and the PR team comes to tell us announcements and stuff like usual.

Then, I hear ...“Michaela Onyenwere Rookie of the Year.”

It caught me by surprise. I was NOT expecting that.

I’m just standing there, shocked, and everyone starts screaming.

I told you this team has PERSONALITY. So the only correct way to celebrate was me dancing in the center of the court while all my teammates were saying, “Go Mic! Go Mic!” (I’m sure you guys saw the video lol)

It’s the most humbling thing to be named Rookie of the Year, but I mean … the FIRST in New York Liberty franchise history? I don’t take this accomplishment lightly. Especially when I was having to guard some of the toughest players in the league night in and night out.

A’ja Wilson. Candace Parker. Jonquel Jones.

I’m talking about having to defend SUPERSTARS.

So to get this award was another pat on the back moment for me because I know the work I put into this game. I heard how people counted me out and didn’t think that I would be able to contribute to this team in my first year. That’s why I love New York and this organization so much for drafting me and believing in me from Day One.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s still a surreal moment for me. Bringing this award to New York means everything to me.

But, before I could really celebrate the award, we had a tough single-elimination game against Phoenix.

Y’all know how it went. Down by three with a few seconds left. Betnijah comes down, hits the three and we’re tied. All we need to do is get one stop. It was a roller coaster of a game.

83–82.

Losing in the final seconds like that was heartbreaking.

It hurts. No one likes losing, especially not me. I hate it. People say they hate losing but I really HATE losing.

But, that loss was something that we knew we were going to take with us into next season. Even though we lost, we walked into that locker room hurt but proud of ourselves.

Our season was rocky. We were learning every game and it seemed like all we heard was doubt after doubt. We were told continuously that we weren’t going to make the playoffs but we did.

Then we heard, “There’s no way this young team can compete with a team like Phoenix.”

Again, we proved everyone wrong.

Sarah Stier/Getty Images
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The W also proved everyone wrong, too. You see our games and see the energy we bring every night on that court. Those are hard-fought, exciting games to watch, and we love that more people are taking notice. Yeah, we hear the lil chatter from trolls online about how it’s not fun to watch us or that ratings are low.

But if these playoffs proved one thing, it’s this: If you’re bored when the W is on?? Then you’re just not watching.

Because the W puts on a SHOW, and all we want is the opportunity to share that with our fans.

And if you think this season was entertaining, just wait for next season. The W is still evolving and the world needs to pay attention.

That playoff game and the entire season taught not only us but everybody else that the New York Liberty are here to stay and … that we’re even hungrier.

To the city of New York that continues to embrace us and believe in us, showing up and showing out in their Liberty seafoam jerseys at games, THANK YOU for making us feel important.

We’re building something special here and we’re only going to keep getting better, so get used to seeing us. The sky isn’t the limit for this team because we know how high we can go and I say with all the confidence in the world that this team will be back next year!

I promise you.

Even my grandma knows how we coming next season. I’ll be honest, because a lot of people have been asking me about her. She isn’t the biggest basketball fan in the world, but she’s most definitely a Liberty fan. And after every game, I always get a text from her, and it says a lot of different things depending on if we played good or bad.

But every single time, she ends it with the most important thing. She says, “I’m proud of you.”

So keep your eyes on us because we’re just getting started.