In November, UCLA women’s basketball was knotted at 56 against UCF in its first road game of the season – and Charisma Osborne’s first contest away from Pauley Pavilion of her collegiate career.
With 53 seconds left, the freshman guard squared up from beyond the arc.
“In that moment, I was going for it,” Osborne said.
When that shot fell, it was clear Osborne was in the right place.
Her introduction to Westwood wasn’t defined in November, however, but by one-on-one workouts on long summer days with her backcourt partner, redshirt senior guard Japreece Dean.
Initially, Osborne said she felt slightly unnerved to be working out with a guard of Dean’s pedigree. Dean was recently named a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognizes the top 10 point guards in the country.
“I tried not to show it, but I think I was a little (intimidated), just because she’s (Dean),” Osborne said. “She’s really good. She’s the leader of the team. I know (coach Cori Close) goes to her a lot about specific things.”
As Osborne grew more comfortable with Dean, she said the pair bonded over shared visions of eventually playing in the pros.
“I just know where I want to go: I want to play in the WNBA,” Osborne said. “(Dean) wants to play in the WNBA too, so I think that’s something we have in common, which makes it easy for us to vibe with each other.”
While summer rolled on from July to August, Dean’s phone continued to buzz with texts from Osborne asking to shoot around at the Mo Ostin Basketball Center. The duo passed the time shooting mid-range jumpers, pull-up jumpers and 3-pointers between games of pickup.
Dean said she was impressed by Osborne’s persistence at a young age.
“To have that mentality and mindset as a freshman is incredible because not a lot of people do that,” Dean said. “Now it’s paying off – now she’s getting the minutes; now she’s making shots.”
Osborne is now one of three UCLA players averaging double-digit scoring, and she leads the No. 7 Bruins in 3-point percentage and makes, shooting 33.1% from distance.
The freshman said she understands that extra hours in the gym are just one of the sacrifices necessary to become an elite basketball player.
“If I want to be one of the best, you have to do those things that other people aren’t willing to do,” Osborne said.
Osborne, after all, was accustomed to a higher standard of play. Under former WNBA forward Vanessa Nygaard, Osborne led Windward School to a pair of state championships and was named Los Angeles Times’ player of the year in three consecutive seasons.
The Southern California native said her coach understood how to hold her more accountable, knowing the guard’s career would advance to the collegiate level.
“(Responding to intensity) was definitely something I had to learn – I’m pretty sensitive,” Osborne said. “(Nygaard) constantly reminded me ‘You’re not going to be able to do that at the next level.’ ‘You have to be ready at all times.’ She was pushing me on the court and off the court as a leader.”
Nygaard said Osborne was not only a hard worker, but 2018’s Ms. Basketball for California was ready for any tests thrown her way by her experienced head coach.
“(Osborne) worked really, really hard on her shot before she got to high school, a lot of early mornings and late nights with her dad,” Nygaard said. “Practices were really, really challenging, and she was up to those challenges, no matter who she was going against, she didn’t go easy.”
Former UCLA guard Jordin Canada – entering her third year as a guard with the Seattle Storm – was another product of Nygaard’s coaching. And if Osborne were to make it to the pros, she would follow Canada’s exact path from Windward to UCLA to “the W.”
Nygaard acknowledged some of the pressure placed on Osborne because of the comparison to Canada, but said Osborne is willing to embrace it.
“Once (Osborne) chose to go to UCLA, of course those comparisons crept,” Nygaard said. “She wouldn’t have chosen UCLA unless she wanted that additional pressure, probably, of that comparison. … I think that’s something that motivates her.”
And if Osborne was affected by the pressure, she didn’t show it on her official visit to Westwood.
Her commitment came after Close agreed to do the “In My Feelings” challenge dance, which Osborne said helped her feel more comfortable with the team immediately.
“I was like, ‘If you do this dance, and it’s amazing, then I’ll commit,'” Osborne said. “(Close) was having full-on dance practices, and that shows that you really care. She did it, it was great. I was just around the team, around the staff, and it just really felt like I was already on the team.”
With Dean and junior forward Michaela Onyenwere both set to graduate in the next two seasons, Osborne may have to step into a leadership role in just her second season.
Dean said her summer shooting partner is already showing signs of how she can be a leader.
“(Osborne’s) more of a lead-by-example type of kid, she’s not really rah-rah or loud,” Dean said. “Right now, I don’t think it needs to be this huge leadership role, but she is a leader.”
No matter her role, however, from her high school stardom to workouts in the summer, Close said one thing is clear: Osborne can be elite in her own right.
“She’s really taken advantage of learning from (Canada) as well as learning from (Dean), but Charisma is Charisma,” Close said. “She is taking pride of blazing her own trail.”