LOS ANGELES — Christeen Iwuala may not have fully made her mark on the college hardwood yet, but she is making a difference off the court. The UCLA Women’s Basketball player is using her first name, image, and likeness (NIL) deal to help others.
Iwuala surprised her teammates on Aug. 22 with pillows from MVMI Sleep, whom she partnered with in an NIL deal. She gifted them the pillows ahead of the team’s 11-day international tour in Senegal and Germany.
“I feel really connected with them [my teammates],” Iwuala said. “With this whole NIL deal that happened, actually being able to have the opportunity to share it with them made it even more enticing to want to do it.”
In organizing the surprise, Iwuala had to make sure all of her teammates came to the same place. However, she also had to ensure they did not know about the pillows, raising their suspicion. But when she finally gave them their gifts, they were overjoyed.
“Leading up to everything that was going on, like to surprise and stuff, we were all kind of handling it very meticulously,” Iwuala said. “It was after practice. We were like, ‘okay, you guys off to shower and then come back out in the patio. Everybody has to come in at the same time.’ So they were kind of like, ‘what’s going on?’ They were really suspicious of what was happening… After, it was just all relief, and everybody was just so happy. So it was it was really funny. It was great.”
Iwuala took her pillow on the international tour, replacing hotel pillows on the way. She also used it to keep her comfortable on flights and train rides. Her team won two of their three games overseas, while enjoying the comfort of their MVMI pillows.
“I was able to kick back in the plane and also in the train. It was it was kind of awesome having it there,” Iwuala said. “And then just replacing it with the hotel pillows, I felt really good sleep after each night.”
Iwuala is not only using her NIL deal to help her teammates, though; it is part of a larger mission: to help others. She felt MVMI’s values of self-care and self-health were ones she could share.
“Sleep, in general, is something that’s really important,” Iwuala said. “And I also take pride in home self-help self-care, being able to sleep better because that’s something that not a lot of people are able to do, and they value themselves in just holding self-health very well.”
Despite the MVMI Sleep deal being her first individual partnership, she has participated in team NIL deals previously. During the 2023 NCAA Tournament, the Bruins partnered with GOAT Fuel for an activation, and Iwuala posted a video to promote the energy drink.
Outside of the NIL space, Iwuala is looking to aid others, too. While focusing on excelling in basketball and potentially making the WNBA, she wants to study medicine and become a surgeon after her basketball career.
“I feel a huge pride in helping the world and like helping people in general, so I want to be able to just figure out how I can do that within my best way,” Iwuala said. “Medicine is one avenue that I really want to be able to help people in. But aside from medicine, I also just want to be able to do community outreach and reach and give back to my community and just help people in general.”
Iwuala is currently majoring in labor studies at UCLA. If she makes it to the WNBA, she hopes to return to UCLA to continue her education after her basketball career.
For the Bruins, Iwuala played 12.1 minutes per game in her freshman season, averaging 2.9 points. Now, she is more confident and ready to show what she can do at the collegiate level heading into the 2023-24 season.
Iwuala worked on mental awareness and resiliency over the offseason. She felt she needed more time to be ready for the mental rigor of the college game in her freshman season.
“High school basketball versus college basketball is one jump that not a lot of people are really prepared for, or at least I personally wasn’t prepared for the mental rigor would actually take,” Iwuala said. “I feel like being able to go in this year, understanding what’s to come, and being able to prepare myself before the games and for the season, I feel like I’m able to apply that now this year, and the show that I need to do.”
Iwuala takes her development day-to-day while maintaining high goals. She is persistent and hopes building her foundation in small steps will help her in the long run.
“I feel like my goals are very high. But at the same time, I’ve been able to learn to try and take things day by day,” Iwuala said. “So, finishing something extremely well today to the best of my ability and what I can do in this moment. That’s how I’m going to be able to figure out how to go all the way up to the WNBA and eventually be able to reach that goal.”
Iwuala will continue to pursue helping others as she strives to make the WNBA. Whether through her education or NIL deals, she is regularly looks for ways to give back to her community.