STAR PROFILE: Natalie Achonwa

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SHOLA ADEYEMO

Natalie Chioma Achonwa (born November 22, 1992) is a Nigerian born Canadian professional basketball player for the Minnesota Lynx of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She played on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team. Achonwa was born in Toronto, Ontario, started playing basketball in Guelph, Ontario, and is 6 feet 3 inches (191 cm) tall.

High school

Achonwa attended Centennial Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Guelph, Ontario for grade 9 before moving to Hamilton, Ontario to play with Canada Basketball’s NEDA program at St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School.

College career

Achonwa was recruited as the first ever international player on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team.[3] In 2011, Achonwa was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team along with being selected Big East Freshman of the Week in her freshman season. 

In 2012, she was named to the NCAA Raleigh Regional All-Tournament Team. In her junior season, she was named as an Honorable Mention for the Associated Press All-America Team. Since her freshman season, she and her team have had four Final Four appearances and three National Championship appearances.

In what ended up being her final home game, the six-foot-three forward suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament with about five minutes left in Notre Dame’s 19-point victory over Baylor on March 31, 2014. This win helped push the Irish into the NCAA Final Four.

In 2015, Achonwa was selected as the Notre Dame Representative in the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Legends Class.

International career

At age 16, Achonwa became the youngest player to ever play on the Canadian national team in 2009. She competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics as well as the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women.

Achonwa was invited to join the national team, to play in the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship for Women, held in Xalapa, Mexico from September 21–28, 2013. She averaged 7.5 points per game and helped the Canadian National team to a second place, silver medal finish. Canada faced Cuba in a preliminary round and won 53–40, but in the championship game, Cuba prevailed 79–71.

She missed the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women due to injury.

Achonwa was invited to play for Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics, making it her second Olympic appearance.

She played for Canada at the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

Achonwa was invited to play for Canada at the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Pan Am games 2015

Achonwa was a member of the Canada women’s national basketball team which participated in basketball at the 2015 Pan American Games held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 10 to 26, 2015. Canada opened the preliminary rounds with an easy 101–38 win over Venezuela.

The following day they beat Argentina 73–58. The final preliminary game was against Cuba; both teams were 2–0, so the winner would win the group. The game went down to the wire with Canada eking out a 71–68 win. Canada would face Brazil in the semifinal.

Canada went on to beat Brazil 91–63 to earn a spot in the gold-medal game against the USA.

The gold-medal game matched up the host team Canada against USA, in a sold-out arena dominated by fans in red and white and waving the Canadian flag. The Canadian team, arm in arm, sang “Oh Canada” as the respective national anthems were played.

After trading baskets early the US edged out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter. However, the Canadians, spurred on by the home crowd cheering, fought back and tied up the game at halftime. In the third quarter, it was Canada’s time to shine as they outscore the US 26–15. The lead would reach as high as 18 points.

The USA fought back, but not all the way, and Canada won the game and the gold medal 81–73. It was Canada’s first gold-medal in basketball in the Pan Am games. Achonwa contributed 13 points and two rebounds

WNBA

Indiana Fever (2015–2020)

Achonwa was drafted ninth overall by the Indiana Fever in the 2014 WNBA draft. She sat out the entire 2014 WNBA season, due to a left knee injury she suffered during her senior year at Notre Dame in the NCAA playoffs. 

In the fall of 2014, while continuing her rehab, Achonwa took a job as the interim Director of Operations for the Notre Dame women’s basketball program. She was filling in for the incumbent Katie Schwab, who was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness.

Achonwa did not sign her rookie contract with the Fever until February 2015 once she recovered from her injury. She returned to the court in time for the 2015 WNBA season. In her rookie season, she was a back-up center on the Fever roster, averaging 8 ppg and 3.5 rpg in 28 games with 17 starts.

The Fever finished third place in the East with a 20–14 record. By the end of the season, Achonwa was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team. Lead by their two all-stars Tamika Catchings and Marissa Coleman, the Fever advanced all the way to the Finals facing off against the Minnesota Lynx but lost the series 3–2.

In the 2016 WNBA season, Achonwa had a reduced role on the Fever’s roster playing 24 games while coming off the bench with limited minutes. The Fever made it to the playoffs once again but were eliminated in the first-round elimination game by the Phoenix Mercury.

During the 2017 season, Achonwa played a full 34 games for the first time in her career while starting in 17 of those games, averaging 7.1 ppg and 3.7 rpg. However, the Fever finished as the second worst team in the league with a 9–25 record.

In the 2018 season, Achonwa became a full-time starter for the Fever and played all 34 games, averaging career-highs in scoring and rebound with her new role, but the Fever would continue their losing ways, finishing 6–28 as the worst team in the league.

In 2019, Achonwa re-signed with the Fever as a restricted free agent. She played 30 games and would start in 18 of the games played during the season. The Fever had an improved season but still fell short of making the playoffs with a 13–21 record.

In 2020, the season was delayed and shortened to 22 games in a bubble at IMG Academy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Achonwa played 18 games and started in 11 of them, but the Fever would once again miss out the playoffs with 6–16 record, finishing as the second worst team in the league.

Minnesota Lynx (2021–present)

On January 28, 2021, Achonwa signed a multi-year deal with the Minnesota Lynx in free agency.

In the 2015–16 off-season, Achonwa played in Italy for Dike Napoli. As of November 2016, Achonwa signed with Bucheon KEB Hana Bank, a South Korean club for the 2016–17 off-season. In 2017, Achonwa signed with Asan Woori Bank Wibee of the South Korean league for the 2017–18 WNBA off-season.

In 2018, Achonwa signed with Jiangsu Phoenix of the Chinese league for the 2018–19 WNBA off-season. In 2019, Achonwa signed with Tango Bourges Basket of the French league for the 2019–20 WNBA off-season. In 2020, Achonwa signed with Famila Schio of the Italian league for the 2020–21 WNBA off-season.

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