August 1, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

UCLA’s Charisma Osborne has flourished using Mamba mentality

Charisma Osborne knew he would be at the game, so before UCLA faced Connecticut at Pauley Pavilion in 2017, Osborne, then a top high school prospect, approached Kobe Bryant for a photo. As Osborne came forward with a friend whose family was close to Bryant, the former Lakers star asked her how she was doing. He already knew Osborne’s name.

Osborne, now a sophomore at UCLA, grew up a Lakers fan, but really, she was a Kobe fan. Four years after their brief meeting and one year after the five-time NBA champion died, she still is.

“Kobe knew what it took to be great,” the Moreno Valley native said.

It was in the way he worked, she said, the way he held his teammates to his elite standard and the way it resulted in championships. Osborne hopes to bring all those things to UCLA.

After being selected to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, Osborne has taken a leap forward for the No. 6 Bruins this season, averaging 18.1 points and a team-high 4.5 assists per game. She enters UCLA’s game against No. 5 Stanford in Santa Cruz on Friday as the team’s second-leading scorer behind All-American candidate Michaela Onyenwere (18.2).

Osborne’s 45 assists in 10 games are already one more than her 31-game total last season. Without All-Pac-12 point guard Japreece Dean, who was selected in the third round of the WNBA draft in April, the Bruins (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12) rely on Osborne to not only create her own offense, but to facilitate it for others. Point guard is not her natural position, but the 5-foot-9 Osborne has thrived in the role when needed.

“Freshman year, she did great,” Onyenwere said, “but this year, she’s a different level and a different beast.”

After leading Los Angeles Windward High to two state titles and being chosen The Times’ player of the year three consecutive times, Osborne averaged 12.2 points and 1.4 assists as a freshman. Getting acclimated to the college game was difficult, she admitted. It felt like learning a new language.

Although she was an accomplished scorer in high school, averaging 21 points as a senior, she first carved out a role on defense with the Bruins. Her 5.8 rebounds per game were the second-most on the team.

Charisma Osborne led Windward to two state titles.

(Nick Koza / For The Times)

As she got more comfortable, coaches called for her to be more assertive on offense. The challenge continued into the offseason, when she worked on ball-handling and passing with confidence. She pored over WNBA game film with head coach Cori Close, analyzing such stars as Sue Bird, Arike Ogunbowale and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

Osborne was preparing for her own starring role.

“I really just wanted to be more consistent and be more reliable,” Osborne said.

The sophomore proved she was up to the task against Washington State last week when she bailed the Bruins out by scoring 11 of her 28 points in overtime in a 68-66 win.

UCLA blew a 16-point third-quarter lead by scoring just five points in the fourth quarter. Osborne had UCLA’s only basket of the quarter but missed four other shots. In overtime, the player who set a school record for three-pointers in a season by a freshman made three of five shots, including two three-pointers.

“Something just went off in my head,” Osborne said. “We did not come this far … to come back and lose this game in overtime.”

The competitive fire has defined Osborne’s game since she gave up cheerleading in elementary school when someone handed her a flyer for basketball. She started playing on a boys team at the local recreation center.

By the time she moved to a girls team in sixth grade, she had developed superior physicality. She grew up watching Lakers games with her family, and perfected her skills by working out at odd hours with her father. They were shooting in the gym at 1 a.m.

“I felt like all those times we spent in the gyms, those early mornings, made me want to be a basketball player,” Osborne said, “and want to be one of the great basketball players.”

Differentiating between “good” and “great” is a difficult choice Osborne has this year, Close said. The opportunity to even make such a decision only comes to those talented enough to earn it, and Osborne, whose goals include winning UCLA’s first NCAA championship, advancing to the WNBA and playing in the Olympics, is in that category. The coaches remind her of that often.

“I just believe she has such a huge future ahead of her,” Close said, “and [our job is] to hold her mind-set [of] ‘Is this what it’s going to take to become great?’ ”

Osborne strives to hold her teammates to the same standard the way Bryant demanded the best from the Lakers. It doesn’t come quite as naturally to her. While Osborne is fiery on the court, she is also sensitive. Holding her teammates accountable can be difficult because she doesn’t want to damage their relationships, she said.

Osborne set the foundation with her actions in practice and is continuing to build with words in the huddle. During games, Osborne now vocalizes her critiques when before she would have just retreated into herself during frustrating moments.

“It’s fun hearing that competitive fire just come out and help lead our team,” said redshirt junior Lindsey Corsaro, who splits point-guard duties with Osborne.

If she’s not subjecting her teammates to Bryant-inspired leadership tactics in the huddle, Osborne is working on the one move she has tried to emulate from the Lakers legend. The dream shake, a shoulder fake and turnaround jump shot Bryant learned from Hakeem Olajuwon, often appears at practice when Osborne posts up her teammates. It works well in practice, but she hasn’t used it in a game.

“I just need the perfect opportunity,” Osborne said with a chuckle. “It’s going to come one day.”