Chantel Osahor’s flat-footed set shot is as striking and awkward as Charles Barkley’s golf swing. Difference is, while it takes an act of God for Chuck to hit the ball flush, Osahor consistently knocks it down from deep.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — For two hours now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe Chantel Osahor’s game, and for the life of me, I can’t do it. There are over 4,000 players in Division I women’s basketball, and her style resembles none of them.
I suppose the best I can do is liken her play to a Pablo Picasso painting. It’s weird as all hell — but in its own way, beautiful.
“Watching Chantel Osahor makes me smile,” tweeted Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo Friday night. “She can really play.”
SportsCenter isn’t paying much attention to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament yet, but if it were, it’d have a darling in Osahor. The Washington center’s flat-footed set shot is as striking and awkward as Charles Barkley’s golf swing.
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Difference is, while it takes an act of God for Chuck to hit the ball flush, Osahor consistently knocks it down from deep. Just check out the box score from the Huskies’ 85-72 win over Kentucky Friday, when she hit four of her eight three-point attempts.
But that outside stroke is just one instrument in Osahor’s unorthodox orchestra. And its effectiveness is just one example of how deceiving looks can be.
When it comes to this 6-foot-2 junior, the book couldn’t be much different than the cover. Even so, most opponents find her impossible to read.
“I guess people don’t watch film on her. I don’t know. This is what she does and she’s been doing this now for three years,” Washington coach Mike Neighbors said.
“I’ve had a number of coaches say to me ‘we show our kids film, we tell them, we tell them, we tell them.’ But they don’t believe it until they see her go for 19 (points), 17 (rebounds) and five (assists).”
That, by the way, was Osahor’s line vs. Kentucky Friday night. But the more telling stat is the 9-2 run the Wildcats made in the last four minutes of the first half, when Chantel was on the bench with two fouls.
Kelsey Plum may be the Wooden Award finalist averaging 26.2 points per game, and Talia Walton may be the Husky who dropped 30 points in her Sweet16 debut. But Sunday against Stanford, Osahor will be every bit as critical to UW’s hopes of reaching the first Final Four in program history.
So how exactly does Chantel do it? How can the biggest player on the team constantly go undetected?
Maybe foes look at a vertical leap you couldn’t slide a laptop under and assume she’s unathletic. But then she’ll get the ball in the post, spin right by Kentucky’s Makayla Epps and finish with her left hand.
Or maybe she lulls defenders to sleep with her tranquility with the rock, only to wake them up with a back-door pass for a layup.
Neighbors frequently equates Osahor to a chess player who is two mental steps ahead of everyone else on the court. And based on her performance in the tournament (she’s averaging 11.3 points and 14 rebounds through three games), she appears to have queen-like value.
“I think from now on I’m gonna deserve some respect and some attention for my game, which everyone wants,” said Osahor, adding that most people try to be friendly and describe her style as “interesting.”
By the way, the basketball court isn’t the only place in which Osahor can surprise a person or two. Earlier this week, Plum mentioned how Chantel was once in the weight room with some athletes from a UW male sports program, and showed them up by bench-pressing 80-pound dumbbells. Makes sense if you think about it, though. How else could she find the strength to hit halfcourt shots after practice without ever leaving her feet?
Right now, Osahor’s focus is on beating the Cardinal and helping the Huskies get to Indianapolis. When her college career is over, however, her plan is to get into coaching.
Hey, she’s a basketball fanatic — a player who spends hours upon hours of her free time watching film so as to better understand the game.
But Sunday morning, the camera will be on her, and if you want to be entertained, it would be in your best interest to watch. You may not be able to describe the way she plays, but it’s hard to think you won’t enjoy it.