WNBA can wait: Charisma Osborne returning to UCLA next season

UCLA guard Charisma Osborne grabs a rebound in front of Washington State center Emma Nankervis.
UCLA guard Charisma Osborne grabs a rebound in front of Washington State center Emma Nankervis during a game on Feb. 23.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

It wasn’t a delayed April Fool’s joke. Charisma Osborne will be back.

The senior guard who was a projected first-round WNBA draft pick surprised fans and analysts by announcing her decision to return to UCLA for a fifth year on Wednesday.

While the guard may have compromised her draft pick potential, Osborne feels like she can more than make up for it with the opportunities still left in college.


“UCLA is obviously such an amazing school,” Osborne said Wednesday. “The opportunities are just endless here and you just don’t get these college years back.”

With the top-ranked freshman class in the nation, the Bruins rose from preseason unranked to their first regional semifinal appearance since 2019. Osborne earned her third All-Pac-12 honor and led UCLA with averages of 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals a game.

Freshman Selena Harris played a critical role in pushing UCLA into the NCAA gymnastics championships, earning the first perfect score of her career in vault.

April 1, 2023

Guard Camryn Brown also announced her intention to return on Wednesday, giving the Bruins four returning starters next year. Point guard Gina Conti, who exhausted her college eligibility, is the only starter not returning, pushing expectations for the team even higher after the Bruins made a surprise run to the Pac-12 tournament title game.

“I wanted to experience this all over again in a normal way and with the team that I had,” said Osborne, who is returning with an extra year granted because of the pandemic. “We can do some big things with this team.”

After the pandemic canceled her first NCAA tournament opportunity and limited her second one to a bubble, Osborne played in a traditional postseason for the first time this season. The highlight came when she scored a career-high 36 points in a second-round game against Oklahoma in front of a boisterous crowd at Pauley Pavilion.

The victory seemed like a perfect swan song in front of her hometown fans who were expecting the senior to declare for the draft. Osborne was on the WNBA’s initial list of players who renounced their remaining college eligibility on March 28. It was three days after UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA tournament by No. 1 seed South Carolina in front of a packed crowd of nearly 13,000 in Greenville, S.C.


But playing in front of big postseason crowds for the first time, getting to host first- and second-round games, and seeing women’s college basketball thrive with record viewership only reinforced Osborne’s desire to return.

Hoping to avenge its loss to South Carolina in November, UCLA instead sees its season end in a 59-43 Sweet 16 loss in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

March 25, 2023

“I would say [there was] maybe a little bit seeing other players experience something that I really want to experience,” Osborne said. “Obviously I came to UCLA to win and do those things, so to have another chance at it, that’s also another opportunity that I’m super excited about.”

Osborne was a top-five pick in some mock drafts at the beginning of the season, but was projected to be a late first- or early second-round pick in Monday’s WNBA draft. She will now try her luck in a stacked 2024 group that could feature stars such as Louisiana State’s Angel Reese, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers and Stanford’s Cameron Brink.

She considered how her draft stock would stack up with her peers next season, but it didn’t deter her.

“I really just have to bet on myself,” Osborne said. “I’m really confident in the player that I am. I know I’m going to work hard over the summer and the spring. … I have no doubt I’ll be ready for next year’s draft, regardless of who’s coming out, who’s not coming out.”

Reese, the breakout star who helped lead LSU to its first national championship, said on a podcast after the championship game that she was “in no rush” to bolt to the pros, where she would make less in salary than she does through her name, image and likeness deals. Osborne said the earning potential in college also impacted her decision.


The Moreno Valley native said she has signed with Klutch Sports for NIL representation. She spoke to UCLA coach Cori Close about the potential of making as much as a WNBA rookie salary, which is less than $63,000 this season, through endorsement deals.

Some resources at UCLA, where the Bruins have a designated practice facility and travel on chartered flights, also dwarf those in the WNBA.

Osborne was weighing the decision after her season ended and started leaning toward her return last weekend. But she kept the news under wraps. Fans kept sending congratulatory messages about the WNBA draft.

“I feel like I’m just lying to all of these people,” said Osborne, who wanted to keep the decision quiet until Wednesday so she could tell her teammates in person at UCLA’s first meeting after spring break.

By the time she announced her decision, she felt “relieved that it was over,” Osborne said. But with lofty goals for next season, her work is only beginning.