By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

First up

Westmont at Oregon (ex)

When: 2 p.m. Nov. 5

TV: None

All of the stars from last year’s memorable Oregon women’s basketball team are back.

And a true freshman has been shining during October practices.

Satou Sabally, a 6-foot-4 wing, adds a unique skill set to a rotation loaded with savvy guards and post players who create mismatches.

“Without being too hyperbolic, I think she has a chance to be a star,” coach Kelly Graves said of the German import. “She can really do anything. She’s done a couple things in practice that we’ve never had anybody do in this gym. It’s going to be fun to see her growth as a player.”

Sabally helped lead Germany to the FIBA under-20 Division B gold medal in July and played for Eisvogel USC Freiburg, a professional team on which she averaged 10.1 points and 4.6 rebounds last season. She was also the first international player invited to the Jordan Brand Classic girls’ game.

So why did Sabally decide to make Eugene her new home?

“During my recruiting process, I felt really taken care of during my visit,” Sabally said. “I knew Maite (Cazorla) before because of Europe connections. It was just the really great people who were interested in me as a person, not just as a player. I have to combine both things here for four years.”

Sabally’s two freshman classmates, point guard Aina Ayuso of Spain and forward Anneli Maley of Australia, add international experience to a roster that includes guards Cazorla (Spain) and Morgan Yaeger (Australia).

Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard, who were both all-Pac-12 selections as true freshmen, spent their summer playing for USA Basketball.

“She definitely has a lot of confidence coming in as a freshman,” Hebard said of Sabally, “and how she plays really works with what we’re trying to do.”

Sabally said she has been playing at the two, three and four positions in practice.

“I can bring the ball up and I can post up,” she said. “I need to learn seeing the court from the inside as a post. I can improve that.”

Oregon returns all five starters and its top seven scorers from last year’s historic NCAA Tournament run. Joining a deep rotation coming off the program’s first Elite Eight appearance did not intimidate Sabally, who was born in New York but moved to Berlin as a child.

“It’s an honor because I’m able to play with great players,” Sabally said. “That’s what I want to do because I’m really competitive and I want to be surrounded by good players who make me better so I have a chance to improve myself. It’s just a big honor.”

Ionescu, the national freshman of the year, said she already trusts Sabally to knock down big shots.

“Satou is so versatile, she can play any position,” senior guard Lexi Bando said. “She can post, she can run the floor, she can shoot, so she’ll be a tough matchup for people.”

The deeper and even more talented Ducks received three first-place votes in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll and were picked second (tied with Stanford) behind UCLA.

Oregon will open the season against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 10 at Matthew Knight Arena. The Ducks play an exhibition game against Westmont on Nov. 5 in Eugene.

“Last year it was a great finish. We have to remember we’re a really young team that kind of got hot at the right time and we got better,” Graves said. “That’s what young teams do, they have a chance to progress and get better. Their ceiling is higher than veteran teams. We only have two seniors and two juniors on the roster. Relatively speaking, we’re still a young team, but we’re experienced.

“We have a lot of players that have played on a big stage now and won some games in postseason. That experience is invaluable.”

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