It was an announced crowd of 2,820, but at least six rows of Black people sat behind the visitors bench at Williams Arena last week—a rare sight at Gophers WBB home games. Most of the fans on November 29, when Norfolk State played Minnesota, weren’t there for the home team but rather for Spartans junior forward Kierra Wheeler, a Minneapolis native and Robbinsdale Cooper grad.
“We were super excited when we found out that Norfolk State was playing this game and on this court,” noted Katrena Wheeler, Kierra’s mom.
Kierra’s old high school brought a busload of folks to The Barn that night. “They brought a lot of fans, and it’s good to see that support is still here,” observed her mom.
The 6’3” Wheeler led Norfolk State (14 points, nine rebounds), in the Spartans’ 74-43 defeat at Minnesota.
“It felt amazing to come back home and just see my high school and my family showing me love,” said Kierra afterward. “It just shows how strong my community is, and it keeps motivating me to go harder and keep pushing myself to show other athletes [in the area] that they are capable of going Division I.”
After starting out at a JUCO in Florida where she was first-team all-conference, Wheeler transferred to Norfolk State and helped the Spartans win the 2023 MEAC women’s basketball championship title. The team ranked first in the nation in scoring defense and field goal defense, and fifth nationally in steals and turnovers forced per game and three-point shooting defense.
At Cooper, Wheeler was a four-year conference first-teamer and made the 1,000-point club at the end of her sophomore year playing with older sister Aja on a Cooper state-title-winning team as a freshman.
“There’s been a lot of people who doubted her when she was young,” added older sister Kaheesha Green. “She’s worked hard from the day she picked up a basketball. I’m super proud of her.”
According to her parents, both hoopsters in their day, Kierra has a little bit of each of them in her.
“Hustle, just hustle since she was a young girl,” said her father Mario Green, a key reserve on Clem Haskins’ Gopher teams (1987-91) who played with the Harlem Globetrotters. “I know she’s a hard worker. She continues to progress, continues to listen to coaches and improve each and every year.”
Her mother, Katrena Wheeler, a Minneapolis Roosevelt grad and 1992 all-metro team member, scored nearly 1,700 points, snatched 608 rebounds, and collected 432 assists in her Teddies career. “I’m super emotional about basketball, and I see that fight that I had. She has the same thing,” she said of her college-hoopster daughter.
“She does a good job showing up for games like these,” NSU Coach Larry Vickers said of Kierra, also known as ‘MeMe.’ “I thought MeMe did a great job. She always managed to show up against bigger defenders.”
Afterward, despite her final stats, the junior Wheeler, a MEAC preseason first-team pick, said she’d rather have left that night with the win.
“I’m a player that wants to do anything and everything for my team to win. If that means score zero points and getting 20 rebounds, that’s fine. As long as we get to win, I’m satisfied,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler nonetheless showed out for her family and supporters, a large contingent of mostly Black fans at Williams Arena that’s a rarity. For them, they were pleased with their favorite daughter’s performance.
“I just want to say it’s a great crowd,” concluded MeMe’s mom. “We’re just glad to be here.”