Michelle Smith WBB Feature: UO's German-native Sabally is emerging as a big star

Just a couple of years ago, Satou Sabally was a young basketball player in Berlin, Germany who didn’t know much about collegiate basketball in the United States.

“I know what I’m playing for now,” Sabally said.

Nothing less than a national championship, as it turns out.

“Before, when I first got here, I think every game was just a normal game,” Sabally said. “Now I understand the difference between the preseason and the Pac-12 season and the tournament. This year I know what we are doing and what we are doing it for.”

The girl who described herself last year as “a guard, and a post and a 4…everything”, has been just that for the Ducks in her sophomore season.

“I’m just playing with more confidence this year,” Sabally said of a second collegiate season that sees her in a starring role on one of the best teams in the country. Third-ranked Oregon sits atop the Pac-12 with a 10-0 record and headed into its biggest weekend of the season so far, a difficult road trip to the Bay Area to face Cal and No. 11 Stanford.

Sabally, who was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times last season, is averaging 17.7 points and 6.0 rebounds a game with a team-leading 22 blocks. She is both long and quick with a sweet, smooth shot. And the 6-foot-4 forward has made 47 3-pointers this season, making her one of the most versatile, least guardable talents in the league.

“Last year, I was more of a ‘4’ and this year I’m playing more of a ‘3,’ and I feel more free in that position,” said Sabally, who has scored more than 20 points in nine games this season so far. “I know what I’m doing and I know what my role is.”

Oregon coach Kelly Graves said that Sabally has provided him a “wow” moment in nearly every game this season.

“She’s maturing into one of the best players in the country before our very eyes,” Graves said.

Graves said the biggest jump Sabally has made is her “aggressiveness.”

“She’s really diversified her game. Last year, she was primarily a shooter and a straight-line driver,” Graves said. “She’s stepped up her driving and penetration game. She’s just so active and quick. She’s able to get by people.”

Graves said she is still a talented shooter, but one that has gotten more consistent with deeper range. And because of her size and versatility, she is a matchup headache.  

“Defensively, she’s made big strides as well. And she’s become a much better rebounder,” Graves said. “Last year, it was an after-thought for her. This year she’s really attacking the glass.”

In addition to learning that there is not much that is “normal” about playing basketball in Oregon these days, she also learned that high expectations are part of the experience.

“Every athlete wants to win and compete at the highest level. That’s our common goal,” Sabally said. “Our roles are different, but we all have high expectations of our team. That is the same.”

Because winning is something that is universal.

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