Penn women’s basketball recently completed one of the best seasons in program history, going to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Ivy League title. For next year’s title defense, the Quakers will have a new weapon to unleash as forward Michelle Nwokedi will be a prominent part of Penn’s freshman class. Nwokedi spoke with the DP about why she chose Penn and following the team this year.
The Daily Pennsylvanian: Being from Texas, you were recruited by local schools and received interest from higher profile basketball schools than Penn. So why did you choose Penn?
Michelle Nwokedi: I met the coaches last summer for an unofficial [visit] and I really liked everything that they stood for. I really liked the campus and ... not many people have the opportunity to go to an Ivy League school. For me, academics come first. I felt that if I were to go to a big program, that it would be all basketball and I feel that Penn has that perfect balance between academics and basketball.
DP: When you visited, what were your interactions like with the coaching staff?
MN: They basically told me things that really helped with where I would fit in at Penn, not just on the team but they wanted the best for me ... academically [as well]. As for the team, I bonded with them a lot because they were really easy to get to know. They were very honest with me about academics, basketball, how everything is. And now, I still interact with the coaching staff and they tell me how I’ll fit in and [the coaches] are always checking in on me, so I know I picked a great school.
DP: How have the coaches said you will fit into the team next year, especially with a lot of solid forwards coming back?
MN: They said that coming in as a freshman, it is obviously going to be hard and for my position ... I can play a bunch of different positions so they think I’ll really help as [I’ll be able to] get a rebound and start a fast break instead of hitting one of the guards. As for the many forwards we have, they’ve already told me that playing time – they haven’t really discussed that – but everyone has to work equally hard in order to get a starting spot.
DP: How much did you follow the team this year?
MN: My dad actually got the Ivy League Network so we were updated with every game, watching almost every game. And when they played Texas [in the NCAA Tournament] on TV, we watched that. We were pretty updated. We even flew in for their games against Columbia and Cornell, so we were really on top of their game, rooting for them.
DP: What was it like to see your future school on ESPN in the NCAA Tournament?
MN: I thought it was actually really cool because a lot of people really underestimate the Ivy League with basketball. So seeing them [give] Texas a hard time was really cool to show people that yes, the Ivy League [schools] play basketball too, and they’re not only academic.
DP: What does that Ivy title and overall season in 2013-14 mean for the program moving forward, especially with the next four years while you are there?
MN: I think that winning this year and yes, we’ll have the target on our back next year, but it’ll make it even more fun because we’ll still want to prove people wrong. I think the next four years will be just the same. I think we’ll do everything we did last year with a few minor changes and come in this year even stronger, knowing we have a target on our back.
DP: Was it tough deciding to go to a school so far from home?
MN: Yes it was tough but when I thought about the big picture and when I graduate from an Ivy League school, I quickly got over it because staying in Texas versus going to an Ivy League school, getting this opportunity that not many people have, obviously I’d go to an Ivy League school over staying home. And I’m the last child so my parents have already promised [to come] visit a bunch of times.
DP: How would you describe yourself as a player and what are your strengths and weaknesses?
MN: I’m very versatile, so like I said you could put me at guard or at the post at any time. What people don’t know is that I’m tall, but I can also guard guards. I think over the summer, when I get to Penn, I’m going to work on getting stronger.