In sports, there are star players capable of carrying their teams in stretches. Then there are transcendent players, cornerstone pieces able to change the landscape of the playing field with their presence.
If last year was any indication, Grandview sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere is a transcendent talent on the basketball court.
The 5-foot-11 forward broke the freshman state scoring record last season, becoming the only Colorado first-year player to tally over 500 points. Her 503 points surpassed Abby Waner’s record total of 473 during the 2001-02 season.
And that wasn't just some name she passed. Waner led ThunderRidge to three consecutive Class 5A state titles, finished with the second most career points all-time in Colorado history, won the Gatorade national player of the year as a senior, and went on to star at Duke University.
Onyenwere also broke the Grandview scoring record for a single season, was named first-team all-state in 5A, the only non-senior on the first team last year, and earned MVP honors of Colorado’s annual all-star event, The Show.
Onyenwere was also one of 153 prep players from across the country to be invited to try out last May for Team USA for the under-17 World Championship team. She survived the first round of cuts, but was among 26 cut when the roster was trimmed to 70.
The forward has received national recognition by recruiting services and is currently graded as a 90 and listed as a three star prospect by ESPN.
The sophomore’s game demands the spotlight, but if anything she shies away from the press clippings.
"I am probably most impressed with how she handled all the attention quite honestly," Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky said of Onyenwere. "She got a lot of attention and she handled it very well. That was great to see.
“I would say more than any of the accolades and all those kinds of things, she stayed grounded, she is a good teammate, and she is a great young lady. It’s important to her that her teammates are valued. All of those things are really great to see.”
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For someone who only took up basketball seriously as a seventh grader, the numbers Onyenwere has registered in high school have been astonishing.
Her averages of 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 2.3 steals to go with 58 percent shooting from the field last year were impressive. Her consistency was equally impressive as she scored in double figures in all but two games and recorded ten 20-point performances during a 24-3 season for Grandview.
The Wolves went 14-0 in the Centennial League and earned a second-straight final four appearance before falling 65-54 to Fossil Ridge, the state runner-up.
Grandview had another memorable campaign despite losing a great senior class from the school’s first final four team in girls basketball the previous year.
"I don't know if I was the star, but I just knew that there was a lot of responsibility that had to be taken," Onyenwere said of her role in igniting another semifinal run. "It wasn't just me. I had lots of help from the seniors and the rest of the team."
The touted forward enjoyed being part of an outstanding program from day one in high school.
"I knew it was something that we did the year before and so I knew as a team we needed to do that again last year," Onyenwere said of the final four appearance. "It was kind of a legacy that needed to be continued. I am grateful I was part of that team."
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So what makes Onyenwere so good? For one, she has ridiculous speed.
Onyenwere ran the ninth-fastest time of all freshmen in the United States in the 100-meter dash last spring (11.77 seconds). She finished with the sixth-fastest freshman time in the 200-meter dash (23.97 seconds) and placed sixth in a stacked 5A state meet in both events.
"She's an incredible athlete," Ulitzky said. "There's no doubt about it. She's faster with a ball than most kids are without it and that's pretty rare. I think she has a very good feel for the game. She understands rebounding and where the ball is likely to be. She can really jump. She's got a great vertical. In PE, her vertical measured 29 inches, which is just unreal.
"Those are the skills that set her aside. She anticipates things, she still does things in practice pretty much on a daily basis where we’re like, 'Oh my gosh, did you just see that?' That athleticism is really off the charts."
Onyenwere has an athletic advantage over virtually anyone she faces and has been a force in the post from the time she stepped on the court. But at 5-foot-11, Ulitzky believes her future is more as a perimeter oriented player. She’s starting to expand her role as an inside and out threat.
"Last year I was playing the post. This year, it’s kind of been a transition," Onyenwere said. "I have to have a guard mentality. My shooting has to be better, my ball handling has to be better, and my vision on the court has to be better. Overall it'll be hard, but if I work hard at it I know I can do it."
So far, so good for Onyenwere with three 20-plus point performances for 4-0 Grandview, the No. 2-ranked team in 5A in this week's CHSAANow.com rankings despite graduating four starters off last year’s squad. This year's team features a number of speedy, talented guards surrounding their cornerstone piece.
Colleges around the country are in pursuit of Onyenwere's talents.
"I would say that she has the potential to take basketball as far as she wants to take it and I don't know what that means for her yet," Ulitzky said. "She's garnered attention from a lot of schools, so if that's something that she wants to pursue, that's certainly available to her and we'll see where her talent and work ethic and all those things will take her.
"I definitely think the next step for her is to continue to improve her skills so that she can be the strongest player not only athletically, but also skill-wise. We'll see where that leads."