UCLA’s Charisma Osborne embraces underdog role after dropping to Mercury in third round of 2024 WNBA Draft

Charisma Osborne, right, poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected 25th overall by the Phoenix Mercury during the 2024 WNBA Draft Monday night at Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Charisma Osborne has achieved success at every level as she won California Ms. Basketball in her junior year of high school and also scored the second-most points in UCLA women’s basketball history. Now she can add WNBA draft pick to that impressive resume as she was selected in the third round by the Phoenix Mercury in Monday’s draft.

Osborne is a Moreno Valley native, which is in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, but she traveled 80 miles west to attend Windward School in Los Angeles. Windward is considered one of the better basketball schools in the state and Osborne upheld that legacy by winning back-to-back Southern Section Open Division girls’ championships — with former Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard leading the charge — in her sophomore and junior seasons.

With this success as well as a McDonald’s All-America selection in 2019, Osborne was a highly-touted five-star recruit entering UCLA. The former Windward Wildcat made an immediate impact, starting 29 games and averaging 12.2 points in her freshman season for the Bruins.

Osborne, a 5-foot-9 guard, was a five-year starter at UCLA and averaged double-digit points each season, which is why she finished her illustrious collegiate career with 2,272 points. The Bruin graduate was invited to attend the 2024 WNBA Draft in Brooklyn on Monday, which normally signifies an early draft pick and mock drafts expected her to be selected in the late first or early second round.

That was not the case.

Osborne waited until the first pick in the third round to be selected 25th overall by the Mercury. The draft day drop was a bit of a surprise, but she averaged less points in her graduate year than she did in her senior season, which in part is because of the addition of Stanford transfer center Lauren Betts. Despite being picked later than expected, the new Mercury draft pick’s confidence is not shaken at all.

“I think going in the third round, that’s just a number, and I think I’m just going to go out there and do my best and show what I can do,” Osborne said. “I’m really confident in my skills and my abilities. Obviously, I’ve earned this moment to be here. So I think, like I said, that’s just a number, and I’ll go out there and try my hardest and make the team.”

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There are only 144 WNBA spots with 12 teams having 12 players, so Osborne needs to prove in training camp that she belongs. Osborne is accustomed to being one of the best players, if not the best, but now she must deal with the reality that she is just another WNBA draft pick and is not guaranteed to make the team.

Osborne was in a comfortable position at UCLA as they treated her how any school would treat its best player, but now she won’t be getting that star treatment in Phoenix.
“I’ll definitely miss the people,” Osborne said. “I love my teammates, my coaches and the staff around there, and them helping me so much. I know that in the dub (WNBA) I’ll be a little bit more independent, so I’ll probably miss the extra help of people telling me what to do, but I’m excited for what’s next. I know at some point I have to grow up.”
Osborne admits that she needs to mature, but she has already shown a lot of growth leading the Bruins.

“I think I learned so much about myself as a player and especially as a leader,” Osborne said. “We had a really young team this past year, and I felt like I was able to grow my game and my leadership. I loved playing with my teammates and they always challenged me to be better, but I definitely think my leadership. I used to be so shy as a kid, so to see where I am now, I’m just so proud of that.”

The Mercury did not have a first- or second-round pick after trading both those selections to the Chicago Sky for 2021 Final MVP guard Kahleah Copper on Feb. 6, but they ended up getting a player who has the potential of a top pick with the ability to lead.

Along with Copper, Phoenix this offseason added 2019 WNBA champion guard Natasha Cloud to play with WNBA legend Diana Taurasi and guard Sophie Cunningham, who averaged 11.3 points per game last season. It might be tough for Osborne to make the squad with a logjam in the backcourt, but she will face the best competition in training camp and learn from some of the top veterans.

“I’m so excited to learn from both of them (Taurasi and Cloud),” Cloud said. “Obviously they have a lot of great guards there, and Diana Taurasi is like the GOAT of basketball, so to be able to learn from her is going to be so fun and I can’t wait for that.

“Natasha Cloud, I love her energy. I love when she used to play for Mystics and she was so fun to watch. It’s kind of unreal to be able to say that I’m going to be teammates with Diana Taurasi and Natasha Cloud.”

Justin de Haas(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Justin de Haas expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. de Haas has interned as a reporter for the Walnut Creek Crawdads of the California Collegiate League and reported on the Arizona State women’s soccer and lacrosse teams for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network.