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‘You have to pave the way’: WSU's Bella Murekatete is first Rwandan-born woman to play Division I basketball

The WSU Cougars center helped the team make their first tournament appearance in 30 years.
Credit: AP
Utah guard Brynna Maxwell (11) shoots as Washington State center Bella Murekatete (55) defends during an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Pac-12 women's tournament Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

PULLMAN, Wash. — It was quite a historic year for the Washington State University women’s basketball team, making it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three decades.

“It’s like the feeling when you work so hard for something and you finally achieve it. It feels like whew,” said Bella Murekatete.

The 6’3'' sophomore center from Rwanda is one of the program's heartbeats that made this year a special run.

Her presence is felt every time she steps into the paint. Before she became a star in Pullman, her story began in Africa. 

That’s where she was born and raised for the first 14 years of her life and then she moved to Post Falls while attending Genesis Prep.

“I grew up in Africa and everybody plays soccer there,” Murekatete said. “You grew up playing soccer no matter if you like it or not.”

Basketball was just an afterthought. It was volleyball that was her first true passion which ultimately helped with the transition to her new sport.

“Then I actually realized I was pretty good. By sophomore, junior year, that's when I actually started taking it serious.”

Moving across the world is no easy task for a teenager but she’s thankful for her support system. Among those being the host family that opened their home and offered her a space to live.

“You’ve got to give so much credit to her mom, and to Bella over in Rwanda,” said Murekatetes host father Barry Buer. “Sending a 14-year-old girl over to the United States not knowing the language that well and certainly not knowing anybody.”

It was a leap of faith but she now has two families that love and support her dreams.

“She is like a daughter to us and we’re her biggest fans,” exclaimed her host mother Kim Buer.

Murekatete averaged more than five points a game this year and made over 50 percent of the shots she took throughout the season. 

With two years of eligibility left, those numbers will most likely continue to rise. But perhaps the most meaningful stat of her career is that she’s the first Rwandan-born player in women’s NCAA Division I basketball history. 

“It’s a blessing and I’m thankful to be in the position that I’m in. It feels like you have to make it for other people. You have to pave the way.” 

That could be a lot of pressure but somehow she carries it well. One day she sees herself playing in the WNBA and, for right now, she’s confident in both herself and her teammates.

“It’s been really helpful and a blessing to be able to have another family here,” she explained. “To be able to count on them and knowing I have a mother and father, and brothers here that always help me with anything.”