No. 9 Ducks thrive with global talent
EUGENE — Mark Campbell’s passport contains an impressive stamp collection.
The Oregon women’s basketball assistant has circled the globe recruiting elite talent since joining coach Kelly Graves’ staff.
The ninth-ranked Ducks have five international players — Australians Anneli Maley and Morgan Yaeger, Spaniards Maite Cazorla and Aina Ayuso and German Satou Sabally — on the 2017-18 roster.
The other nine programs currently ranked in the Associated Press top 10 have a combined seven foreign players, six of whom are from Canada.
Campbell doesn’t speak Spanish or German, but Oregon’s track record under Graves comes through loud and clear on the recruiting roads less traveled.
“The common language in all this is basketball and culture,” Campbell said. “And that we’re going to take care of their kids when they send them across the world. Coach Graves has created an amazing culture here. It’s one that international players have thrived in, and it’s one that international players will continue to thrive in.”
Cazorla helped Graves establish a winning culture by leading the Ducks to the WNIT semifinals two years ago after star forward Jillian Alleyne suffered a season-ending injury. Now the junior guard from Las Palmas, Spain, is mentoring Ayuso, a freshman guard from Sant Just Desvern, Spain.
“It’s really awesome, just the fact to be able to speak Spanish with somebody else,” said Cazorla, who played on the same high school team with Ayuso for one season in Barcelona. “I’ve been through the same thing she’s going through and I know what it feels like.
“So I can help her if she doesn’t understand or if she feels homesick.”
Sabally and Maley are having a significant impact as true freshman on a team that returns all five starters from the program’s historic NCAA Tournament run in March.
After averaging 20 points and 3.5 assists during the Ducks’ wins over Hampton and Weber State, Sabally earned her second Pac-12 freshman player of the week award.
“She’s just one of those players that doesn’t come along very often and can kind of do it all,” Graves said of the skilled 6-foot-4 forward from Berlin. “She has a great feel for the game, she’s got a high basketball I.Q. and she’s very competitive.
“I tell her all the time we could take video of her jump shot and make money. That thing is beautiful. That would be a great teaching tool for any kid out there.”
Maley, a 6-2 guard from Melbourne, isn’t afraid to mix it up with Oregon’s female version of the Tall Firs in practice or physical opponents like Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
“Australians, we’re gritty and we like to think that we’re pretty tough all the time,” said Maley, who is averaging 3.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 12.8 minutes off the bench. “That’s what I try to embody when I play. The one thing I have had to adjust to is fouls. I think the way the game is refereed here is very different from back home. They don’t let as much go as they do back home.”
Cazorla and Sabally both said their biggest on-court adjustment was getting used to the more physical style of play in America.
”When I drive to the basket here, there are more pushes,” Sabally said. “It’s harder to get to the basket. I definitely have to get way stronger.”
All five of Oregon’s international players — including Yeager, a sophomore guard who is currently out with a back injury — have competed for their national teams.
At the FIBA under-20 European Championships in July, Cazorla helped Spain win the Division A gold medal and Sabally was the most valuable player in leading Germany to the Division B title. Maley averaged 10.7 rebounds for Australia in FIBA U19 Women’s World Championships.
Graves, who has experience coaching for USA Basketball, encourages the Ducks to represent their respective countries whenever possible.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to grow as players and it allows them to be coached by other coaches,” Campbell said. “It really is good for them, and we’re very supportive of it. When they come back together, they bring those experiences with them.
“Then we all come back together as a group ready to compete for the Oregon Ducks.”
Oregon’s two sophomore stars, Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, also spent the summer competing internationally.
Ionescu was the youngest member on the USA’s under-23 team, which captured the inaugural Four Nations Tournament title with wins over Australia, Canada and host Japan in Tokyo.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Ionescu said of her expectations entering the tryout. “I told my mom to have food ready when I got home after trials. I was just enjoying the experience. I know I was the youngest one on that team and I was just super excited to learn from the veterans that were there participating.”
Ionescu averaged 10.3 points and 2.3 assists on the stacked U.S. squad.
“I was definitely surprised when they said my name,” Ionescu said. “I was like, ‘Oh, mom, save the dinner for when I get back from Tokyo.’”
Erin Boley, who is sitting out this season after transferring to Oregon from Notre Dame, was also invited to try out for the under-23 team and previously played on the USA’s under-18 team in the 2015 FIBA World Cup.
Hebard won a silver medal as part of the USA’s under-19 team at the 2017 FIBA World Cup. She averaged 11 points and eight rebounds.
“If you’re not recruiting internationally, I think you’re doing a disservice to your program, because there are so many fine players all over the world,” Graves said. “Now they have teammates from all over the world. The bond they’re going to have as a team, as teammates, is so strong. It’s awesome to learn about other cultures.”
Three role players Oregon lost from the Elite Eight team — Jacinta Vandenberg (Australia, graduated), Megan Trinder (Australian, graduated) and Lauren Yearwood (Canada, transferred) — added to the program’s international flavor.
Nyara Sabally is a member of Oregon’s most recent recruiting class and will join her sister Satou on campus next fall. The 6-3 forward averaged 17.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game to earn MVP honors representing Germany at the FIBA under-18 Division B European Championships.
“We have so many international players and they’re all representing their countries,” senior guard Lexi Bando, who is from Eugene, said of the quiet summer workouts at Oregon when much of the roster is scattered around the planet. “They’re playing a bunch of games, and we’re supporting them. They come back when they can.
“It’s awesome to be able to have friends from all over the world.”
Graves said sometimes the coaching staff has to “rephrase what we say” so all of the players are comprehending the message, but the program’s recent success is not lost in translation with young prospects anywhere.
“I’d say it’s no different than recruiting American players,” Campbell said. “There’s a certain talent level you’re looking for to help compete at the highest level in the Pac-12. Then it’s getting to know the kids, just like the Americans, and their work ethic and personality and making sure it’s a good fit. …
“It’s something unique and it’s something that has worked really well for us.”