At Pac-12 media day in mid-October, sophomore point guard Sabrina Ionescu was asked who would get the ball if Oregon needed a basketball late in a game. Ionescu, who beat No. 20 Cal last season on a last-second 3-pointer, did not respond with her own name.
Instead, she said freshman Satou Sabally. Fellow sophomore Ruthy Hebard agreed.
“I would say Satou as well,” Hebard said. “She definitely has a lot of confidence coming in as a freshman, and how she plays really works with what we’re trying to do.”
Sabally, a German international student and the No. 1 international prospect in her class, joins a young team with high expectations after a run to last year’s Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Sabally assists a talented roster, and has quickly emerged as a vital piece to the team’s offense.
Through two competitive games, Sabally, who has been one of the first three players off Oregon’s bench each game, is shooting at 66.7 percent, including 20-point night in the Ducks’ second-round win over Drake in the Preseason WNIT Tournament.
Germany is nine hours ahead of Oregon, which means many of Sabally’s games are on in the middle of the night. But that’s not stopping Sabally’s family and friends from watching.
“I’m just really happy to hear all the response and they’re really pushing me up,” Sabally said. “I really appreciate everyone.”
Basketball in Europe has its differences compared to the United States. Sabally grew up in a club system rather than the public or private school system used in the U.S.
The growth of the international game is transitioning into collegiate basketball now more than ever, and the effects are visible at Oregon.
“The game is international now,” head coach Kelly Graves said. “And I think if you’re not recruiting internationally, I think you’re doing a disservice to your university and your program. There are just so many good players.”
Sabally is one of three freshmen on Oregon this year. The other two are Aina Ayuso, a Barcelona native, and Anneli Maley from Melbourne, Australia. Sabally says she spends a lot of time with Maite Cazorla, a junior from Spain, as well as with her other international teammates to help her avoid homesickness.
She misses her mother’s cooking, specifically rice, but says she’s fallen in love with pancakes. Besides adapting to food, the English language and college life, Sabally is adjusting to the on-court life too.
“In Germany, we don’t play so fast,” Sabally said. “Just switching from defense to offense is kind of different.
“When I drive to the basket, you get more pushes. It’s harder to get to the basket,” Sabally said. “I definitely have to get stronger; it’s way more physical.”
Besides Cazorla, Sabally leans on senior Lexi Bando as well as Ionescu for help in the backcourt. Sabally and Ionescu have developed on-court chemistry in the time they’ve practiced together.
“She finds these passes, and you always have to be ready to get the ball, which I like because it’s always an option to score,” Sabally said of Ionescu.
Sabally won the Most Valuable Player award at the FIBA U20 Women’s European Championship 2017 Division B this past summer in Eilat, Israel. While the competition there was a challenge for the 19-year-old, the competition in the NCAA and Pac-12 will be a different beast for the Berlin native.
“It’s really high,” Sabally said of the competitiveness in collegiate basketball. “I have to adjust and playing more physical, playing faster and it’s really hard. That’s the only way I’m getting better, so I appreciate it.”
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow