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Grace’s Whits: How Charisma Osborne’s decision to forgo WNBA draft will affect her, UCLA team

Senior guard Charisma Osborne celebrates with her teammates after a victory. After averaging 15.9 point per game in her senior campaign, Osborne opted to stay in Westwood for another season. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

By Grace Whitaker

April 7, 2023 12:37 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled Caitlin Clark’s name.

This post was updated May 11 at 2:33 p.m.

Charisma Osborne seemed to end her time in Pauley Pavilion in the perfect way.

The 36-point performance to shut out Oklahoma and carry her team to the Sweet 16 was magical, and the ensuing standing ovation was the cherry on top.

But as the senior guard walked off the court for what everyone thought would be her final game in a UCLA jersey, the performance actually began a new chapter and put off the end everyone was anticipating.

Eight days after an official WNBA list of those declaring for the 2023 Draft featured Osborne’s name, the senior released an announcement of her own that she would be using her extra year of eligibility granted by COVID-19 to stay in Westwood. Despite being a projected No. 8 pick, Osborne made the decision to give it one last shot at adding “national champion” to her laundry list of accomplishments throughout her time with UCLA.

While the decision is being celebrated by the Bruin fanbase far and wide, the choice doesn’t come without its impacts for Osborne and UCLA women’s basketball, as well as implications for the sport as a whole.

What this means for Osborne

Osborne is one of the best players this Bruin program has ever seen.

Her 36-point performance in the round of 32 during March Madness proved that.

But, this is a time when nearly every Power 5 team in the league has an Osborne of their own – or better.

Yes, she leads one of the most promising teams in the Pac-12 that, in one year, turned itself around from a Women’s National Invitational Tournament auto-bid to a Sweet 16 appearance and Pac-12 tournament runner-ups. But, this year’s draft also features South Carolina powerhouse forward Aliyah Boston, who led her team to a National Championship just one year ago and is the projected No. 1 pick.

The draft will also determine the fate of a Pac-12 familiar foe in Stanford’s guard Haley Jones who holds claim to a national title of her own from 2021 and is the projected No. 6 selection.

This makes it appear like Osborne’s decision to hold off on the draft is a good one for herself and for her chance at eventually landing on a professional roster. But next year’s draft won’t be without its fair share of talent either.

Most notably, Iowa guard Caitlin Clark – who is the recent victor of the Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year award – will be a true senior and will likely go to the draft. Connecticut guard Paige Bueckers, the winner of that same honor in 2021, will be in the same position. Cameron Brink, a Stanford forward who served as a key cog alongside Jones and was this year’s WBCA Defensive Player of the Year, will most likely stake her claim in the selections as well.

The WNBA draft will not feature any less talent in 2024 than in 2023, so in order for Osborne to hear her name called, she will need to have a standout fifth-year campaign. It’ll have to include at least a championship appearance of some form, and 30-plus-point performances must be a recurrent affair, not a one time masterclass.

(Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)
Osborne talks to her teammates after a play. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

What this means for the program

This season, the Bruins had a talent overflow.

From Osborne to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation to the return of redshirt sophomore forward Emily Bessoir from injury, coach Cori Close had her work cut out for her to maneuver the selection of a starting five.

And next season will be no different as UCLA will only lose one starter in graduate student guard Gina Conti, and potentially one player off the bench in senior forward Brynn Masikewich. And in addition to returning depth from this season, UCLA will add to it by welcoming All-American forward Amanda Muse .

But, prior to Osborne’s announced return – alongside that of senior guard Camryn Brown – the Bruins’ roster would have featured one freshman, five sophomores and two players returning from at least year-long injuries. Bessoir would’ve been the only veteran available who had played more than one season for the blue and gold.

UCLA would have lacked the leadership and experience needed to make a deep tournament run come March. But with Osborne and Brown back in the picture, the continued growth of freshman guards Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones and the added forward depth, UCLA will have the recipe next year to cook up something special.

What this says about the sport

There are countless disparities between men’s and women’s basketball that are being revealed as the growth in the latter continues.

One of the most glaring discrepancies exists in their respective Drafts and roster selections.

The WNBA Draft only calls 36 names each year, and even fewer of those athletes end up on a roster. The NBA Draft selects 60 players each season, granting two rounds and therefore two selections to each team in the league.

In a sport where there are 349 Division 1 women’s basketball teams that feature 5,588 athletes, it is nearly impossible to be one of the 36 drafted. To put it into perspective, any Division 1 women’s basketball player has a 0.6% chance of being drafted, but out of all college women’s basketball players, that percentage shrinks to 0.1% when also including all Division 2, 3, NAIA and other four-year university athletes.

And even worse, since there’s only 144 roster spots throughout the entire WNBA, the odds of seeing any playing time are even rarer after Draft Day celebrations conclude. The NBA on the other hand, has a whopping 450 spots to offer.

A player as talented as Osborne, who finished the 2022-2023 campaign projected as the No. 8 overall pick, should not have to worry about appearing on a roster.

While Osborne likely made the decision to stay out of a combination of desires to bring a title to Westwood, spend another year in a program close to her heart or enjoy the benefits of NIL, it is reasonable to assume that draft stock played some role in her choice.

This year, 9.9 million people tuned in to watch the NCAA women’s basketball championship between Iowa and LSU, smashing the record as the most-watched college women’s basketball game in history and nearly doubling the turnout of last season’s title contest. The sport is growing, but the needed changes have yet to reflect that.

If the WNBA roster space was expanded to reflect the exponentially-growing support for women’s basketball in recent years, Osborne would not need to fret.

But, instead, the basketball world continues to accept that the women’s side of the game isn’t granted the same luxuries as the men’s.

For now, Bruin nation will get another chance at seeing Osborne don the blue and gold, and UCLA’s hopes for its first National Championship in 45 years look better than ever.

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Grace Whitaker | Sports senior staff
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
Whitaker is currently a senior staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. She was previously an assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's soccer, beach volleyball and cross country beats and a contributor on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats.
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