First pick in first virtual draft, Liberty’s Sabina Ionescu is poised to redefine women’s sports
“It’s a historic night for the New York Liberty,” says GM Jonathan Kolb
It certainly wasn’t the draft night Sabrina Ionescu had been dreaming of while growing up in Walnut Creek, Calfornia as the basketball-lovng daughter of Romanian immigrants.
The University of Oregon phenom and two-time Wooden Award winner as the best player in women’s college basketball was denied, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the usual strut up to the podium and warm welcome from adoring fans and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert last Friday night.
But ultimately, the result was the same for the 22-year-old point guard and triple-double machine.
“Of course, it was different than what I had expected,” Ionescu readily admitted after being selected with the top overall pick by the Brooklyn-based New York Liberty in the first virtual draft in modern sports history.
“Just excited to be able to be here with my family and the people closest to me and be able to spend this time,” added Ionescu from her parents’ couch, approximately 3,000 miles from Downtown’s Barclays Center, where she will be the star attraction whenever the Liberty get to begin their 2020 season.
Ionescu was a no-doubter as the first pick in the draft, which was originally scheduled to be held in Manhattan before the COVID-19 outbreak wreaked havoc on scheduled public events throughout the world.
Despite being unable to bask in the usual pomp and circumstance of getting selected first overall from a talent-rich pool of the world’s best amateur players, Ionescu relished the moment.
“Really making the most out of what’s going on in today’s society. But really happy to spend this moment with (my family) and it’s exciting to have gone through this process,” she noted.
The 5-foot-11 floorleader didn’t take long to make her impact on our borough.
Ionescu’s jersey sold out in record time on the team’s website while Liberty and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai was thrilled to have another star attraction on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenue.
“Child of immigrants, played against boys growing up, not only scores/assists but fights for every rebound. The definition of Grit,” Tsai tweeted moments after Ionescu joined Nets superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the top players on the Brooklyn hardwood.
Ionescu led the Ducks to back-to-back trips to the Elite Eight during her freshman and sophomore years, the Final Four as a junior and the Pac-12 Tournament Championship title in her senior campaign, which was cut short by the novel coronavirus.
Oregon’s all-time leader in points, 3-pointers, assists, triple-doubles and double-figure scoring games isn’t just about racking up numbers, however.
“The fact that I’ll be able to be in Brooklyn and have a platform and a voice in kind of the mecca of the world is going to be amazing,” Ionescu said Monday during a conference call.
“I’m just excited for that opportunity, having done it in Eugene and changing the way people view women’s sports in Eugene. Just excited to take that with me to Brooklyn and hopefully use it for a bigger good in that bigger marketplace.”
The Liberty, who finished with the second-worst record in the league last season, are also looking forward to climbing the standings on the back of a player who figures to transform the women’s game here in Brooklyn.
“It’s a historic night for the New York Liberty,” said General Manager Jonathan Kolb.
“Sabrina is a generational player whose resume speaks for itself and we are thrilled to have her as our first-ever No.1 pick. We look forward to adding her to the Liberty family, as we work to reestablish ourselves as one of the top teams in the league for years to come.”
When Ionescu will hit the court for her WNBA debut is not clear just yet.
The league was originally scheduled to begin play on May 15, but that date has been pushed back indefinitely.
“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15,” Engelbert said earlier this month.
“While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.”
Having already secured a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike, Ionescu will be a game-changer not only for the Liberty, but for female athletes across the globe once she gets to make her professional debut here in Brooklyn.
“I’ve been working for this for my entire career and just super excited to be able to see that come to fruition,” she said.
“I just think being a part of a younger team and just trying to learn from them and seeing where I fit in, what role I’m gonna play, is exciting and just bringing a competitive spirit that I have, and just excited to get there and start working with the team and hopefully just continue to use my platform and what I did at Oregon and bring that in to the Liberty.”
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