Chantel Osahor would like to make sure this much is clear about her unique shot that has become a signature of this NCAA Tournament:
Yes, it’s unique. Very few players shoot from 20-feet without jumping.
“I think my shot is pretty nice-looking, to be honest,” Washington’s junior forward said. “Just because I don’t jump doesn’t mean my form isn’t good.”
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On a Washington team that has made one of the more surprising runs in recent NCAA history, there may be no bigger surprise than what Osahor has done. She has gone from role player to star during Washington’s NCAA run, including a pair of games in the regional that will be hard to top.
Osahor had 19 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in the Sweet 16 win over Kentucky, then followed up with 24 points and 18 rebounds in Washington’s win over Stanford to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.
No wonder she was the MVP of the regional.
“It’s a little strange because I’ve been doing the same thing since I’ve been here, since I’ve been playing basketball,” Osahor said. “Now that it’s getting attention, it’s pretty cool.”
We beat absolutely zero people to get her. The recruiting battle was getting her on the phone and getting her to talk because she’s not real talkative.
Washington coach Mike Neighbors
The reasons for why Osahor shouldn’t be playing in the Final Four are greater than why she’s headed there as Washington faces Syracuse in the semifinals Sunday.
She was only discovered out of St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, Arizona, by Washington coach Mike Neighbors because he went to the wrong gym and the Huskies became the only team actively recruiting her.
“We beat absolutely zero people to get her,” Neighbors said. “The recruiting battle was getting her on the phone and getting her to talk because she’s not real talkative.”
Once she arrived at Washington, Osahor was hit by a car while riding her bike near campus early in her freshman year. Once she returned from the shoulder problems caused by the accident, she suffered a stress fracture in her foot.
“I honestly thought of not wanting to play basketball anymore,” Osahor said.
And yet, here she is two years later as one of the stars of the NCAA Tournament. While teammate Kelsey Plum has deservedly received most of the attention for Washington’s rise as one of the premier scorers in the country, the Huskies are not playing for a spot in the national title game without Osahor.
Along the Huskies’ path to the Final Four, Osahor has developed a legion of new fans for her unique shot and fundamentally fun style of play. She’s a point guard, power forward and shooting guard, rolled into one unique package that often gets underestimated until after she’s finished knocking down flat-footed 3-pointers and dominating the backboard at the same time.
“You find me another player in basketball, not women’s basketball, basketball, that gets 17 rebounds, makes eight 3s and has nine or 10 assists in the biggest stage of the biggest games when you need it,” Neighbors said. “There is not another kid in America you could say is our backup point guard, a shooting guard and a power forward rebounder.”
And, coach – which may be the most important position Osahor holds.
She’s a respected voice among teammates and the Huskies coaching staff. It was Osahor that suggested Washington get out of its zone defense and go man-to-man in the fourth quarter of the regional final against Stanford, a decision that proved wise. She wants to be a coach when her playing career ends and already views the game through that prism.
“She kind of coaches me out there and people really don’t see it as much. She’ll be like, ‘Plum, you’ve got to drive that.’ Or, ‘Run, I’ll get it to you,’ ” Plum said. “Whatever she says, it’s like, ‘You’re right, that’s exactly what I need to do.’ And she’s really good at seeing the game and looking at it from different angles.”
Osahor rarely practices and is usually a spectator during pregame warmups, just another quirky aspect to her game. While she may appear not to be much of an athlete, she’s nimble with quick feet and remarkable conditioning. She has averaged 32 minutes per game this season and played 39 minutes in the regional final against Stanford, including most of the fourth quarter with four fouls.
It has become commonplace for opponents outside of the Pac-12 to dismiss Osahor’s skills. But with each opportunity in the NCAA Tournament, she’s proving those doubters wrong.
“Everybody I talk to, you don’t understand it until you see it live,” Neighbors said. “All these coaches have shown their players film and I watch it in warmups every time. I watch teams walk out there and they want to get a look at it. They’ll look down there and they’ll go, ‘I’ve got her.’ I watched Maryland’s post players look down there and go, ‘We’ve got this.’ I’ve got news for you: you don’t.”