Over the past two years, Sabrina Ionescu has been one of the most popular names in the world of women's basketball and now it's time for the next step in her career.
On Saturday, April 18, the 2020 WNBA Draft will take place and it is expected that the 22-year-old will be selected with the no.1 pick by New York Liberty and there can be no better setting than The Big Apple for someone who promises to revolutionise the women's basketball scene globally.
The University of Oregan product re-vitalized the program in her three years on campus, taking her own legend to new heights with her dominant play.
Being able to choose to go to practically any sports program she wanted, the California native decided on Oregon to be the Oregon All-American, not just another All-American elsewhere. Since her younger years, she has been writing her own story and after four years at Oregon, the next chapter is here.
In four years in collegiate basketball, Ionescu changed the history of the Oregon Ducks. She took the program to the Elite Eight for the first time in history and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2017. In 2018, she went one better and was named Pac-12 Conference Women's Basketball Player of the Year.
The following year in 2019, she led Oregon to the Final Four and won the John Wooden award for the most outstanding collegiate basketball player of the year and in 2020 she had hopes of guiding Oregon to their first NCAA title, until the global coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt.
While winning games, Ionescu generated a whirlwind of interest, with the average attendance for Oregon Ducks games growing from 1,501 fans in 2016 to 10,754 in 2019 as the individual records piled up.
Ionescu retired from college basketball as the only player in NCAA history to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists throughout her college career. Something that no one had done before, in either women's or men's basketball.
She registered 26 triple-doubles in 131 games, the most in NCAA history, (men or women), with Oregon winning all 26 of those games. The next closest is BYU's Kyle Collinsworth with 12 triple-doubles.
A league of her own 👑@sabrina_i20 becomes the 1st player in D-I history to reach 2K Pts, 1K Ast and 1K Reb ... and she did it on 2.24 💜💛 pic.twitter.com/uBQTtz8Lne- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2020
She will face much tougher competition in the pros, but Ionescu has already proved she can mix it with the best. In November 2019, Oregon beat the United States Women's National Team in an exhibition game 93-86, with Ionescu finishing with 30 points and seven assists, despite plenty of attention from legendary players like Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird.
OH MY GOD SABRINA IONESCU pic.twitter.com/Doaej0cM3D- Nick Niendorf (@niendorf21) November 10, 2019
Breaking down her game
Ionescu averaged 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.4 steals in her last year and over the course of her career, she shot the ball with incredible efficiency - 45.5% from the field, 42.2% from three and 85.1% at the free-throw line.
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer compares Ionescu's game to that of an elite golfer: "She has it all. The long drive (3-pointers), approach shots (mid-range shots) and putts (finishing near the hoop). She is very physical and very skilled. "
While she can score with the best of them, Ionescu's best skill is her ability to play make for others. "I'm definitely a pass-first point guard," she told ESPN. Sometimes it's hard because I'll pass up some shots I should be taking to try to get my team more involved. I'm still working on that."
Two-time WNBA Finals MVP Diana Taurasi believes Ionescu will have a harder time getting triple-doubles in the WNBA. "Trust me, 10 rebounds in college will go down to four or five in the WNBA," Taurasi said. "That's just how it is: You're talking about the most physically imposing players. So will that dynamic change a little? Yeah, but she still has a knack for the basketball."
When it comes to attacking, the pick-and-roll is his main weapon. Despite sharing the court with projected first-round picks Ruthy Hebard or Satou Sabally, 40% of her offensive possessions last season were pick and roll actions.
Ionescu scored 238 of her 578 points through those plays and with her ability to score all over the court as well as create for others, she is an unstoppable threat.
On the defensive end, while she isn't the same dominant force, she has size at 5'11" makes the right reads and leans on her high basketball IQ.
"If you were to line up all the great players and ask which one is the triple-double machine, you probably wouldn't pick her right away," UConn coach Geno Auriemma told The Athletic. "Yet the way she plays is very old-school. It's rooted in toughness and knowing the subtleties of the game. And she's not afraid to lead. She's not afraid of anything. I really admire that about her."
Tha competitive mindset is key to her success, according to Sue Bird. "She's very relentless," Bird told ESPN. "Even when you think you have her stopped, she keeps coming at you. Those are things you can't always teach. People are going to talk about, 'Is she a good enough shooter? Can she do this? Is she good enough for that?' Who cares? If you're competitive, that can overcome a lot."
Taurasi's shares a similar life story to Ionescu, both children of immigrants. Taurasi's family from Argentina and Ionescu Romania.
"We share that immigrant mindset," Taurasi said. "Maybe your parents don't speak English very well and you have to do things that other kids don't. But you see your parents going to work hard every day and you absorb that. You want to show everyone that you belong. That's inside you. I know I still have it. "
Your favourite player's, favourite player
As Ionescu broke records, she also captured the attention of basketball's biggest stars. Steph Curry called her the "walking triple-double". "It's pretty amazing to see her set new levels of expectation for what greatness is, not just for women's basketball but for basketball in general," said the Golden State Warriors star. "The" King " (LeBron James) already gave her the blessing by naming her" Queen "Sabrina.
She's so DOPE!! Keep going Queen Sabrina! 🙏🏾💪🏾❤️👑 https://t.co/PjGhOe7LaT- LeBron James (@KingJames) January 13, 2020
The late Kobe Bryant also shared a relationship with Ionescu
Ionescu also shared a strong relationship with the late Kobe Bryant, with his Mamba Sports Academy team of girls from the West Coast, idolising the California native. Bryant took the girls to meet the Oregon squad at a game played in Los Angeles in January 2019, where they formed a friendship and while they only knew each other briefly, it was a relationship Ionescu cherished.
The Laker legend acted as a mentor for Ionescu, who in turn did the same for his team of girls, traveling to L.A. a few times to work with the girls, including his daughter Gianna. "It was amazing to find someone with whom I shared the same mindset," Ionescu said.
Following the tragic passing of Kobe and Gianna, just hours later, Ionescu played against rival Oregon State, recording 19 points and eight rebounds in the win. A few weeks later, she spoke at the public memorial for Kobe and Gianna.
"I grew up watching Kobe Bryant game after game, ring after ring, living his greatness without apology," she said. "I wanted to be just like him, to love every part of the competition, to be the first to show up and the last to leave, to love the grind, to be your best when you don't feel your best and make other people around you the best version of themselves. And to wake up and do it again the next day."
Steve Kerr, a five-time NBA champion as a player and three-time champion as a coach, said Ionescu reminds him of Diana Taurasi: "Just a level of confidence and a swagger is off the charts, which is well-deserved because she's a baller. She's a great role model, great player, fun to watch."
Ionescu has everything to become an icon in New York if she is chosen by the franchise, something she is ready to embrace. "Just the marketability that there is in New York, and kind of the hustle and bustle, is something that I think could be not only beneficial to myself as a person, but as a brand, and for women's basketball," she said.
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