When winter sports championships and spring seasons were cancelled, I felt the most sorry for Ionescu of all people, of all teams in all of college athletics. That's a strong statement. Here's why.
Ionescu, the triple-double queen, stayed at Oregon for her senior season so that she and her teammates could earn a national title. The Ducks who rallied to the lead in the fourth quarter of the women's 2019 NCAA tournament's semi-final game, missed critical shots down the stretch in a loss to Baylor. The Baylor Bears went on to defeat the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame in the championship. Ionescu says this was her greatest disappointment....and not getting to play in in this year's tournament.
But rather than focus on what she has lost, she chooses to highlight all that she has gained. In an interview with Mina Kimes of ESPN Sports Daily, she said "I think I gained so much: maturity, leadership, the relationships that I built during this last year. So many people were excited and happy that I returned and I think the community around women's basketball at Oregon grew. It was eye opening to see just all the relationships I made in this last year and just how close as a team we got. Obviously that translated on the court as well, evolving my game and helping me get better on all sides."
As an athlete, this lefty who stands 5'11" is the first player in Division 1 history with 2000 points, 1000 assists and 1000 rebounds. A McDonald's All American became the three time Pac-12 player of the year. She is relentless. She has perfected the floater, and earned the Wooden Award as the country's most outstanding player for the second straight year.
Her personal demeanor is equally impressive. Kimes stated "every mock draft, every analyst article has you projected as the number one pick. How does that make you feel?" Inoescu could have said "grateful" or "pumped." Instead she said "until my name is called, until I can sign the paper, I'm not too excited about it. I don't want to be disappointed so I don't expect anything. Obviously very humbled and excited about the opportunity of playing in Brooklyn and in that organization, but until I hear my name called, I'm keeping a level head."
No spoiler alert here. Inosecu did go first. As written on ESPN "it is still historic for the University of Oregon women’s basketball program as Ionescu is the first player in its history to be selected at No. 1. Less than an hour into the draft, the Ducks had three players selected in the first eight selections with Satou Sabally going No. 2 to Dallas and Ruthy Hebard going No. 8 to Chicago."
Inosecu has her work cut out for her. The Liberty were 10-24 last season. "I know what it's like to build a program from the ground up, so that doesn't scare me at all. I'm excited to be a piece of the puzzle and get things rolling."
The truth is that many sports are player profile driven. Ionescu is a great face for a great game. So be it if people only learned about her on the day she spoke at Kobe's memorial and then set a new NCAA record. She will be around for years to come and given her love for the game and great competition, it will be more exciting to see. Congratulations Sabrina, and congrats to your partner-in-crime, your twin brother Eddy. My theory is you might not have gotten here without him!