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Michelle Smith: Oregon's Nyara Sabally finding her footing in what she hopes will be a defining season

Jan 7, 2022
Oregon Athletics

Nyara Sabally’s college basketball career is less a full picture than a series of highlights, glimpses of what she can be on the court.

After losing the first two seasons of her college career to knee injuries — not to mention the opportunity to play alongside her big sister, Satou, who has moved on to the WNBA — Sabally’s career has turned into a series of stops and starts.

As the Ducks prepare for Friday's road game and Pac-12 opener against No. 2 Stanford, Sabally, the 6-foot-5 redshirt junior from Berlin, is starting yet again.

Having played just four games this season after an injury that sidelined her during the Thanksgiving break, she is just now finding her footing in what she hopes will be a defining season.

“I want to stay healthy and play the best basketball I can this season and contribute to my team’s success,” Sabally said. “We have a lot of potential as a team, and I know we just want to take it game by game and win as many of them as we can.”

Though Sabally arrived at Oregon in 2018, last season was her first full season with the Ducks. She played in 23 games, averaging 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, shooting nearly 55 percent from the floor. She scored in double figures 19 times and posted four double-doubles.

This season, Sabally is averaging 19.8 minutes a game on the floor, scoring 16.3 points and pulling down 5.8 rebounds.

The glimpse of what she can be for Oregon came on November 20 against Oklahoma when she collected 30 points and 11 rebounds with four assists and three blocked shots. And then she didn’t play again for a nearly a month with a right knee injury. 

On Sunday, with the Ducks’ full lineup on the floor for the first time all season, Sabally scored 15 points in 12 minutes, going 6-of-7 from the floor.

“Physically, I’m feeling pretty good. It’s a day-to-day thing,” Sabally said. “I’m still limited in my minutes, but it’s getting better. I’m just looking forward to being healthy the rest of the season.”

Head coach Kelly Graves said Sabally is saving her energy for games at this point.

“She is doing great. She is becoming more present in practice,” Graves said. “But at this point, she is incapable of getting through an entire practice.”

Graves and Sabally mapped out how they want to manage her reps in the short-term.

“It is what it is," he said. "But it is a testament to how talented she is, that she does what she does on very few practice reps.”

Graves said Sabally is a leader.

“With the team, she is fantastic. They listen when she speaks up. She has credibility,” Graves said. “But I feel for her. She wants to be healthy.”

Sabally said that she has made peace with her basketball past.

“It’s definitely been hard, but it’s just part of my college career. I think it makes me stronger,” Sabally said. “There’s nothing I can do about it now. So I’ve just accepted it and moved forward. It’s part of sports, so you live with it and deal with it.”

Graves said he believes Sabally struggles at times with frustration

“I think she thinks she is letting her team down and she is not in any way doing that,” Graves said. “She’s such a great kid, a competitor and so skilled. I think she has a really bright future, I just hope her body will let that happen.”