Nadine Walker knew right away that Tameiya Sadler had what it took to be a star — she just had to convince Sadler. 

The little girl with the long braids — who now leads the Washington women’s basketball team — was different from everyone else in the gym. 

“I had seen her in AAU, but wanted to see what she would look like with our kids,” said Walker, the girls basketball coach at St. Patrick St. Vincent High in Vallejo, Calif. “On Day 1, you could see it. It was automatic. She was special. No. 1, she’s just an athlete.  

“We used to have powder puff games where the girls would play flag football. She played quarterback. She played running back. She played wide receiver. She did it all. And she was scoring touchdowns all the time. She should have played football with the boys. I’m glad she didn’t, but she really could have done it if she wanted to.” 

Walker found a floor general in Sadler and immediately inserted the 5-foot-8 point guard in the lineup, where she amassed 1,689 points and 968 rebounds, while averaging 14.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 5.6 steals per game during a four-year stint in which the Bruins posted an 87-26 record. 

“She started Day 1 and I told her, the only way I’m taking you out is if you get into foul trouble or you’re tired,” Walker said. “I would play her at every position if I had to. She could out-jump people and she was stronger so she could out-rebound people. If we had mismatches, we designed plays specifically to get her into scoring position. 

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“But here’s the thing: she’s super unselfish, so the fact that she’s scoring now is hilarious. We told her at the next level, you’re going to have to score. But we had to force her to shoot. We were like, dude, you got to shoot the three. You got to shoot your pull-up. She would drive and literally pull the whole defense in and kick it out. So the fact that she’s putting up points is kind of funny.” 

Just like she did four years ago, Sadler has made an immediate impact with Washington and has led the Huskies to a 2-0 start heading into their Pac-12 opener at California at 6 p.m. Friday.

In her collegiate debut, Sadler scored 12 points including the game-winning basket to seal a 61-59 victory over San Diego State at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 

Three days later, she led UW with 23 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including three three-pointers and seven rebounds during a 77-48 drubbing against BYU. 

“Since it was my first game, I think we all were like a little scared,” said Sadler, who claimed the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award on Monday. “I know I was a little scared, too.  

“I just felt more comfortable playing the second game. I was starting to get stuff. And I knew that we had to play at our own pace.” 

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Sadler returns home to the Bay Area for Friday’s game — but UW is expected to play Stanford on Sunday in Las Vegas. She is showing early signs of fulfilling the promise of a four-star recruit who was ranked the 98th best prospect in 2020. 

“One of the earliest conversations we had was what level do you want to play in college?” Walker said. “She had D-I coaches coming at her since her junior year and we talked about conferences and where she wanted to make an impact. She knew the Pac-12 is always loaded with talent, especially Stanford.

“But those are kids that she played with or against during her AAU seasons with (Cal Stars). That’s why she’s so comfortable. She played in a very competitive AAU program with Cal Stars.”

Sadler, who teamed with Stanford freshman sensation Cameron Blink for the Cal Stars, chose Washington over programs such as Penn State and Kentucky in part due to former northern California star Sabrina Ionescu. 

“I’m pretty sure she was influenced by Sabrina,” Walker said. “Sabrina played with Cal Stars. Sabrina went to Oregon and at the time, Oregon was OK, but they weren’t a powerhouse until Sabrina got there and really put them on the map. She transformed that program.  

“And Tameiya is that type of player. Now can she do that for Washington? Who knows. And once she decided on Washington, Tameiya connected with Kelsey Plum and they talked about what Kelsey did there.  

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“So there were a lot of things that played into her decision. She could have went to other programs where they were stacked, but for her it was I want to go somewhere and be the game changer and help lift the program.” 

So far, so good. 

Sandler leads Washington with a 17.5 scoring average while shooting 60% from the floor. 

“Going into conference, that just makes me want to play harder,” Sadler said when asked about winning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors. “It shows that my work is paying off and that everyone’s seeing what I’m doing. But to me, I feel like I can do better.”