Charisma Osborne Talks Defense, Confidence, And What She’ll Bring To The WNBA

The WNBA is an unforgiving place for rookies. It’s arguably the most competitive professional sports league when it comes to securing a roster spot, with just 12 players making it onto each of the 12 teams. Adding to the difficulty of locking down one of those 144 spots is the fact that the rookies enter the league mere weeks after concluding their college seasons.

Monday night’s WNBA Draft will see 36 athletes hear their names called for a chance to compete for one of those roster spots in training camp, and for those that were part of the NCAA Tournament, they’ve had to reset and refocus quickly. One of those players is UCLA guard Charisma Osborne, as her Bruins made it to the Sweet 16 and now, just over two weeks later, she’s getting ready to hear her name called in New York.

Osborne calls it a “fun” fortnight, but does note the challenges of getting ready physically for training camp with a new team while also making sure everything is taken care of off of the court before she embarks on her WNBA journey.

“I think as soon as we were done with the tournament, I got a little bit of time to just relax and hang out and take a little break from basketball because obviously the college season is just so long. But since then, it’s been busy,” Osborne told Dime over Zoom last week. “I’ve been doing workouts, and getting ready for New York and getting ready for wherever I’m gonna go. And I’m thinking about packing up my apartment and all of those things and finishing school. I still have two classes that I’m in that are online, so just trying to get all the details of what I’m going to need and what that’s gonna look like for me when I leave.”

On the court, Osborne was a standout in her five seasons with the Bruins, averaging 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game across her career. However, after leading UCLA in scoring in her third and fourth seasons, she embraced a bit of a different role for the Bruins on offense in 2023-24. She was still second on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game, but posted a career-high 4.0 assists per game and looked to be more efficient, which led to a career-best 52.5 true shooting percentage. As a result of her play, the Bruins earned a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

As Osborne gets set to join a new team in the WNBA, that experience of adapting to a changing role for the betterment of the team will serve her well as she will have to find her space on a new team.

“Obviously, our team was really talented, and we had so many great players. And I really loved having that and having that balance of not feeling like you have to score a million points every night,” Osborne said. “So I thought that was really cool. And I think it really challenged me to be able to find ways to affect the game in other ways than just scoring, or even things that show up on the stat sheet. So it’s been really cool to just learn more about myself and try to find ways to continue to affect the game even if I’m not the one scoring 20 points or whatever it is. So yeah, I think that has been really good for me because obviously, the WNBA is going to be an adjustment, and being able to find my role on the team will be fun. But I think the biggest thing for me this year was just trying to find ways to affect things, even if it’s not just scoring all the time.”

Osborne knows the work that lies in front of her, but is excited about the challenge the WNBA will bring. She wants to continue improving her efficiency, especially as a three-point shooter, where she shot 32 percent a year ago. Her 89.2 free throw percentage is proof the foundation of her shot is excellent, and it’s a matter of finding the ways bring that consistency to longer range. She also has gotten more accustomed to facilitating when on the ball, as she took advantage of her fifth year to get more comfortable reading defenses and looking to make the right play, either for herself or her teammates.

Osborne also highlights the importance of watching film — both on herself and others she wants to pull things from — as critical in finding those areas to improve. She loves to watch Jewell Loyd, Kristi Toliver, Kelsey Plum, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and Courtney Vandersloot, trying to see how they move and looking at what reads they make and why in certain actions so she can apply that to her game.

“I love watching film. I watch so much film with my coaches, like on the plane to places, in my individual meetings, or they’ll send me film just for me to watch by myself,” Osborne said. “I think film helps so much with learning because obviously when you’re in it you don’t see everything. And that’s okay, you don’t have to see everything. But I think that film’s a good way to see the things that you may have missed. Or even when my coaches ask me to do something, and I’m confused why they want me to do that, then they can show me later. And I’m like, ‘Okay, that makes sense why you wanted to do that.’ I love film because there’s always new things to learn about it and new ways to look at things.”

While she’s ready to be malleable to her offensive role on whatever team drafts her, it’s on the defensive end that Osborne really believes she can make her mark early in her professional career. She is a dogged on-ball defender, hounding opposing guards to disrupt actions and apply pressure on the point of attack. It’s something she’s taken pride in since she arrived at UCLA, and can’t wait to bring that same defensive effort and energy to her new WNBA team.

“I think I have so much pride in defense and our coaches are always asking, ‘Are you giving up more points than you’re scoring?'” Osborne explained. “And I think I take a lot of pride in that, and I feel like whenever I’m playing defense, it’s me versus that person. If I can stop them 8 out of 10 times then that’s great. I really try to set the tone for my team in that because I know that defense is something that’s just so important in basketball, and it’s not all about scoring the most points. So yeah, I think that’s another way to just affect the game, even if offensively you aren’t doing your best. I take a lot of pride and our coaches instill defense in us and we have so many defensive drills, so I improved so much over the years in my efficiency and my movements. So I think that’s helped me be a better defender.”

That mindset is something that she learned early on at UCLA, recognizing as a freshman that consistency on that end of the floor is key — the best way to get on the floor is not letting hot and cold spells on the offensive end dictate her energy level on defense. After establishing herself over five years at UCLA, Osborne will once again be at the starting point when she arrives in the WNBA, but she knows that the best way to endear yourself to a coaching staff and become indispensable is to show up on defense every single possession.

Osborne’s development hasn’t just been as a basketball player. She highlights her growth as a leader over her time at UCLA, learning the importance of creating bonds with teammates off the court so they can challenge each other on it and know it’s coming from the right place. To get to that point, she had to get more confident in herself, and credits the Bruins coaching staff for investing in her as a person as much as they did as a player.

“I think I’m just a more confident person. I used to be so shy, probably the shyest kid ever. And I’m not like that anymore,” Osborne said. “I think sometimes I get shy, but that may just because I can be introverted. But I think I’ve just grown so much in that, and I feel like I’ve learned to be authentic to who I am. I think that just makes everything easier when you can just be yourself. UCLA has helped so much in figuring out what I like, what’s important to me, especially outside of basketball. Sometimes it feels like it’s all about basketball, but here at UCLA, the coaches and the staff, what I love about them is how much they care about you as a person and not just the basketball player.”

Finding herself off the court has also meant finding things to take her mind off of the game. Her favorite thing to do is bake, noting that making brookies are her go-to. It gives her something that is just for her — the process of baking something — and is a way to give something to others.

“I love food, anything with my friends. Quality time is my love language, so doing anything with my friends, even if it’s something I don’t like, as long as I’m doing it with them it’s like, ‘Okay, well at least we’re gonna not like it together, you know?'” Osborne said. “But I love to bake, and that’s my number one thing to do when I’m not playing basketball. And even if it’s just by myself, and I’ll just bring all the treats to my friends, my family, my teammates. They love it, and I love seeing the reaction on their faces, when I’m bringing cupcakes and everyone’s so excited. So, that’s kind of a little self-care thing that I do when I’m trying to step away from basketball. It’s always so fun because then I can always bring it back to someone. I still like being able to give to someone else after I did that for myself.”

On Monday night, Osborne will learn where her basketball career will continue, and will get packed up and moved out to (likely) a new city to begin her WNBA journey. With her, she’ll bring the lessons from five years at UCLA that have helped her grow on and off the court. Those will be vital in dealing with the challenges of being a WNBA rookie, because you need to have that self-confidence and assurance in yourself, both as a player and person, to thrive in that competitive environment.

Osborne is ready to embrace that challenge, and she figures to endear herself to her new teammates and coaches the same way she did at UCLA: by doing whatever is needed for the team offensively, providing constant effort defensively, and, as a little bonus, bringing the occasional plate of brookies for the locker room.