Bella Murekatete uplifts her team through her infectious smile

Senior center key to Cougar’s winning season, credits team chemistry



WSU guard Johanna Teder (21) and center Bella Murekatete (55) celebrate after guard Grace Sarver blocks a shot during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

She is one of the best centers in the best conference in women’s basketball, can be counted on to score the basket or snag the rebound and if she has a smile on her face — which she usually does — one can count on the fact that a smile is on the face of each of her teammates, coaches, staff and every Cougar fan in sight.

Senior center Bella Murekatete is a positive force for WSU women’s basketball.

She is one of the first players head coach Kamie Ethridge recruited to come to the Palouse after she was initially recruited by WSU women’s hoops’ former coach June Daugherty.

Although this is her fourth year with the team, Bella said she would return for a fifth year at the Pac-12 Media Day Oct. 25, 2022.

Bella grew up in Butare Huye, Rwanda before she moved to the U.S. when she was 15 years old because her mom wanted her to experience life in the U.S. and she found a host family in Post Falls, Idaho, Bella said.

Bella said she played a variety of sports growing up in Africa, including soccer, and it was not until she arrived in the U.S. that she began to play organized basketball at Genesis Prep Academy in Post Falls.

Bella is the first Rwandan to play Division-I women’s basketball.

WSU center Bella Murekatete drives to the hoop during an NCAA basketball game against Cal, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

The similarities and proximity between Post Falls and Pullman were major factors in Bella’s decision to commit to WSU although the excellent coaching staff sealed the deal.

“[Ethridge] really cares about you as a person and that impresses me,” Bella said. “She wants everyone around her to try to help her players and not just in basketball but really in general.”

Bella credits associate head coach Laurie Koehn with helping her develop her shot.

Koehn was one of the best shooters in NCAA history at Kansas State where she learned from Ethridge who was the Wildcats’ associate head coach. She later played in the WNBA and overseas.

Bella said Koehn is a coach she can count on to work with her whenever she needs help.

“Whenever you need her, she is going to get in the gym with you,” Bella said. “If you feel like your shot is broken, you just call her and say ‘Laurie, my shot is broken, can we fix it?’ and she’ll be like ‘of course.’”

On Feb. 3, Bella was one of 10 nominees for the Lisa Leslie Award, reserved for the best center in Division-I women’s basketball.

“It means that people are watching, people are noticing what the team is doing so it’s really an honor but also it’s a motivation to keep going,” Bella said. “I’m just really living the dream that I manifested, all this I manifested and I’m blessed and thankful to God that I can be on that list.”

Bella is in the top five in rebounds in program history and her 11 career double-doubles, the most recent of which was Sunday against No. 7 Utah, is ninth in program history.

On Sunday, Bella made her 100th career start and is 13 points away from scoring 1,000 in her college career.

WSU center Bella Murekatete jumps for a layup during an NCAA basketball game against UCLA, Jan. 22.

“I have such high hopes for Bella every single game, she’s dynamic, she’s explosive, obviously athletic. You know, I think she should have a double-double every game,” Ethridge said.

One of the reasons Murketete may be inconsistent in reaching that double-double mark is WSU’s overall offensive inconsistency and the inability to give Bella the proper spots on the floor.

“When she smiles the room lights up. When she enters the room there’s a big presence. She’s really engaging, she’s got great chemistry with our team,” Ethridge said. “She’s playful, she smiles easy, she laughs at herself easy. She’s got a great sense of humor.”

WSU center Bella Murekatete makes her entrance during ZzuMania, Nov. 2, 2022, in Bohler Gym in Pullman, Wash.

Bella wears her feelings on her sleeve and sometimes that means her mistakes affect her performance.

Ethridge said Bella can depend on Ula Motuga and Charlisse Leger-Walker for their maturity and leadership.

“They really do bring out the best in each other and they take care of each other on and off the court,” Ethridge said. “Bella’s a big part of that.”

Bella takes pride in brightening her teammates’ day.

“I guess I wasn’t really raised to be serious all the time and that’s just my personality and I can’t help it, that’s just who I am,” Bella said. “Smile and try to make everyone’s day better.”

Bella knows that as a senior, her coaches and teammates expect her to perform well on the court and mentor the younger players.

“I’m the type of person to just come in and say something, some joke and everybody is gonna laugh and I love that. I want to see everybody laughing because sometimes you just need a little laughter in your life and your day gets easier,” Bella said. “But also being mature and being what the team needs in terms of everything on the court.”

Bella said the team’s core became close thanks to the nature of being on a basketball team combined with the chance to be around each other more during the pandemic.

“We love each other so much we want to work hard for each other,” Bella said.

Bella said the team sings karaoke together and hangs out at each other’s houses eating food, watching TV and talking.

The team also likes to see new movies together and go shopping in Spokane.

Bella appreciates the fact that she is close to everyone on the team because most of the players are international and it makes Pullman feel like home.

“Everyone on the team is capable of making my day better, making my season better,” Bella said.

Bella hopes Cougs will show up to support her and her teammates during their final home weekend at 7 p.m. Friday versus Oregon and noon Sunday versus Oregon State.

“This team really has something special going on right now,” Bella said. “Come watch us make more history.”