While starring for UCLA over the last four college basketball seasons, Michaela Onyenwere developed a killer turnaround jumper. The Liberty rookie forward said that posting up a defender and unleashing it was "my patented shot." She doesn’t think she’s taken even one since the Liberty drafted her with the sixth pick in the last WNBA Draft.
"It’s so weird . . . I don’t think I’ve posted anyone up one time," she said Thursday after the shootaround before Thursday night’s game against the Las Vegas Aces at Barclays Center.
Few players can make the jump from the college game to the WNBA seamlessly. Onyenwere comes close. She went into Thursday's game leading all rookies in scoring (12) and minutes (23.9) and was making 44.1% of her three-point attempts.
She is in the early conversation for Rookie of the Year and, on Wednesday, Onyenwere was announced as the WNBA’s Rookie of the Month for May. The last Liberty player to get that honor was Kiah Stokes during the 2015 season.
"[She’s] smart, willing to work hard, does whatever is asked of her and this is only the beginning for her," Stokes said. "She's going to be a very, very special player and is going to do amazing in the league."
Stokes was on the 2015 WNBA All-Rookie team and added, "I remember coming from college — some people think it’s going to be easy because we don't practice for three-and-a-half hours a day like we do in college. But [Onyenwere] works hard."
"Overall, it hasn't been the hardest transition from college to pros and obviously that's a testament to just my preparation at UCLA," Onyenwere said.
As a 6-foot power forward, Onyenwere often guards and is guarded by taller and more physical players, And that has presented some challenges. Among the most difficult, she explained, was dealing with the contact in the WNBA that is absent in the college game.
"Most difficult is really finding ways to finish through contact — it’s been a little bit of a stretch for me," she said. "That and just having to guard bigger people. I did it at UCLA, but these people are a lot more skilled [and] stronger and so that's kind of been [on] a learning curve."
There is another side to that coin though. Onyenwere is quicker and more athletic than many of the players who guard her. She can take them outside for three-point shots, which coach Walt Hopkins emphasizes, or get by them to make it to the rim. She was 6-for-14 on threes in the previous game, a three-point loss to Atlanta.
"That is ridiculous," Onyenwere said of taking 14 threes. "I would have never done that in college, but I just feel like we're encouraged to shoot a lot of threes. It’s about having the confidence to take those shots and a secondary confidence where I know I can make them."