Osahor was cut by the Minnesota Lynx in the preseason after injuries, first to her hamstring and then her knee, hampered her. Instead, she’s coaching with Drake University.
Chantel Osahor said she smiled during the entire flight Thursday from Des Moines, Iowa, knowing she was headed to the place where they still love her, the city where she and Kelsey Plum put Husky basketball on the map.
“It feels like I’m back at home,’’ she said, the grin still decorating her face.
What brought Osahor back to Seattle was the Sports Star of the Year event at the Sheraton, where she was a nominee for top female star, an award won by Husky softball player Ali Aguilar. As for why Osahor was coming in from Iowa, of all places, well, there’s quite a story to tell.
To cut to the chase, Osahor is a coach now, serving as a graduate assistant for the highly successful women’s team at Drake University in Des Moines. She is also a full-time student, enrolled in graduate school to get her masters in communication leadership at Drake’s school of journalism and mass communication.
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She loves both endeavors, but why is Osahor, in what should be the prime of her career, coaching instead of playing, when it seemed like she was on the brink of taking her unique skill set to pros? She wonders that herself sometime, but says, “If I’m supposed to play again, I’ll be back.”
When we last saw Osahor, she had just been selected in the second round of the WNBA draft, No. 21 overall, by the Chicago Sky, back in April. It was a reward for her brilliant Washington career that saw her help lead the Huskies into the Final Four as a junior, then lead the nation in rebounding and double-doubles as a senior.
But that’s when things went a little off-kilter for Osahor, whose unorthodox set shot (flat-footed and deadly accurate) and inside toughness had endeared her to Husky fans. The disruption started that very night, when she found out she had been traded by Chicago to the Minnesota Lynx. And then, late in training camp, Osahor was cut by the Lynx after injuries, first to her hamstring and then her knee, had hampered her in preseason.
In fact, Osahor’s knee had become so painful and swollen that she decided to turn down an opportunity to play overseas in Israel after the Lynx cut her. The good news is that nothing is torn, but the bad news is that “I’m in constant, chronic pain,’’ she said. “Every minute of every day. Even now as I’m standing, I’m in pain.”
The solace is that Osahor convinced herself, if not the Lynx, that she belongs in the WNBA. She believes, in fact, that she should have made the team despite her health issue. “I think I proved, even if you ask Coach (Cheryl) Reeve, that I can play in this league,’’ she said. “I took away a lot from that experience, seeing what it takes. I know I can play in that league.”
But Osahor ultimately decided she needed to take this year off to nurse herself back to health. She had returned to Seattle to rehab, when about a month later she got an unexpected call from Jennie Barancyk, the head coach at Drake. Barancyk was an acquaintance — and fan — of Osahor from her days as an assistant at Colorado. Drake’s graduate assistant job had just opened up; would she be interested?
Osahor, who had always yearned to be a coach, jumped at the opportunity. Washington coach Mike Neighbors had always labeled her a cerebral player, and now she has a chance to show it.
“She’s a winner,’’ said Barancyk in a phone interview from Evansville, Indiana, where the 16-7 Bulldogs (11-0 in conference) face Evansville on Friday. “She has a real high basketball IQ and a good feel for the game.”
Osahor is pleased that Barancyk involves her in all aspects of coaching, from hands-on instruction to strategy sessions. And the experience has merely reinforced that this is what she wants to do with her life.
“I found that it is my passion,’’ she said. “It’s definitely my calling to help kids grow the way I had it, because I had some amazing coaches. It’s definitely a process, it’s an adjustment. Not having a jersey on and seeing how it works in the offices is definitely different. But it’s definitely what I’m supposed to do.”
The big question, of course, is whether Osahor will play again. And she genuinely doesn’t have an answer yet. Her heart, and her health, will dictate that. Meanwhile, she has leaned on friends in the coaching field such as Adia Barnes and Morgan Valley at Arizona, and of course Neighbors, to reinforce within herself that she is doing the right thing by stepping away, with no regrets.
“I don’t want you to quote me saying no, but I don’t want you to quote me saying yes,’’ she said with a laugh when I asked if she would resume her playing career. “I take it one day at a time. I definitely miss playing, and I’m in contact with my agent. If I do play, don’t be shocked. If I don’t play, don’t be shocked.”
While she waits for a call, Osahor is content with her life in Des Moines. And on Thursday in Seattle, the memories came flooding back to what she called “the best and worst years of my life.”
“I have teammates that are going to be in my wedding,’’ she said. “Those relationships I took from that are worth any sweat and games lost, games won, that I ever could have gotten out of it. If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing. The best decision of my life was to come here.”
The down side, she said, was the struggles of building the basketball culture at Washington. “It’s not easy. Everyone has different personalities, so you’re going to clash a little bit. But those are what got us stronger and that’s why we’re so close. That’s what I mean by the best and the worst, because there’s definitely tough times, but everyone goes through that.”
Whatever tough times Osahor is going through now are balanced by the invaluable coaching immersion she is receiving at Drake. And the smile on her face Thursday showed that it’s not all pain she’s feeling — especially in Seattle.