The WNBA announced recently that New York Liberty forward Michaela Onyenwere has been selected as the 2021 Kia Rookie of the Year by a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. Onyenwere, named on 47 out of 49 ballots, is the Liberty’s first rookie to win the award. Liberty guard/forward DiDi Richards and Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald also received one vote each.
“When we drafted Michaela, we knew that she was coming to New York ready-made for this league,” said Liberty General Manager Jonathan Kolb. “Her athleticism paired with her determination to help the team on both ends of the floor, simply can’t be taught. We are proud that she is in the Liberty family and excited to witness her growth as her professional career continues.”
“Michaela is one of the most unselfish, hardest working young players I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” said Liberty Head Coach Walt Hopkins. “Winning our franchise’s first ever Rookie of the Year award is a massive accomplishment in its own right, but the most impressive part is the fact that Mic never chased stats or sought recognition.”
Hopkins added: “She was able to get herself to this point by simply doing what her team needed her to do every single day. We couldn’t be more proud of her, and we’re beyond thankful to have her with us on this journey.”
The University of California, Los Angeles, product is the fifth player since the inception of the award in 2010, to sweep the monthly honors for an entire season and ultimately win the Rookie of the Year Award (A’ja Wilson 2018, Breanna Stewart 2016, Elena Delle Donne 2013, Tina Charles 2010).
“I’m so honored to be the 2021 WNBA Rookie of the Year,” said Onyenwere. “To say that I am blessed to be in this position would be an understatement. Since I was drafted, I’ve always said that I couldn’t have been placed in a better situation. The people, the culture, and the organization have all been second to none and my experience so far has been so fulfilling.”
As the No. 6 overall selection in the 2021 WNBA Draft, Michaela appeared in all 32 of New York’s regular season games, 29 of which were starts. Highlighted by her career-high 29-point, five-rebound performance against the Atlanta Dream on May 29, the 6-foot forward finished her regular season rookie campaign with averages of 8.6 points (1st among rookies), 2.9 rebounds (2nd among rookies) and 22.5 minutes per game (1st among rookies).
The Aurora, Colorado native led all rookies in points per game, field goals made, three-point field goals made, and minutes per game. Her 29-point performance was the third-highest single-game scoring total by a rookie in franchise history behind Kia Nurse’s 34 points in 2018 and Sabrina Ionescu’s 33 points in 2020. She was also honored with the AP Rookie of the Year Award on Wednesday, September 22.
Onyenwere added: “I truly couldn’t have done this without God, my family, my teammates, my coaches, and support staff who have all had a part in my development and growth this season. Understanding the magnitude of the legacy of New York basketball and the trailblazers who have come before me, it means that much more that I’m able to be the first in Liberty history to win the Rookie of the Year Award. I’m so grateful to be here and so excited for what’s to come.”
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