Ionescu adjusting to life in WNBA bubble
First overall pick preparing with teammates for pro debut
The spread of the coronavirus took away New York Liberty rookie Sabrina Ionescu’s bid for a second straight Final Four appearance, and perhaps even a national championship, at the University of Oregon back in March.
It also prevented the two-time Wooden Award winner from indulging in the pomp and circumstance reserved for a top overall pick in April’s WNBA Draft, which was held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic.
The WNBA’s use of a bubble environment will also delay Ionescu’s introduction to Brooklyn fans, who were likely to flood Downtown’s Barclays Center this summer in order to see the 5-foot-11 guard from Walnut Creek, California, whom many deem a transformational player.
None of this, however, has dulled the 22-year-old triple-double machine’s enthusiasm for her much-anticipated professional debut.
Ionescu and her new teammates opened training camp this week at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the Liberty will play an abbreviated 22-game regular-season, beginning July 25 against the Seattle Storm, with the hopes of bouncing back from the two worst campaigns in franchise history.
While many have complained about the conditions at the bubble site, documenting everything from bed bugs to lousy boxed lunches and filthy bathrooms, Ionescu has let it be known that nothing can spoil her rookie season.
Her entry into what she deemed the best women’s professional league in the world is just as thrilling to her as it would be if it were on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush.
“It was different than what I had expected, but it was nice,” Ionescu said Monday during the Liberty’s initial media availability session. “Just walking into the hotel and seeing all the WNBA posters and signs was really awesome.
“Obviously had to wait four days (while quarantining) to meet the rest of the team, but that first time of us all being around each other was so fun. It’s been really fun just to have interaction with teammates.”
Aside from her unquestionable talent, Ionescu was brought to Brooklyn to resurrect a franchise that has gone a combined 17-54 over the past two years.
Her leadership skills and unflappable spirit should serve the Liberty well after team management traded away former team MVP Tina Charles and a positive test for COVID-19 knocked backcourt mate and former second overall pick Asia Durr out for the season.
Ionescu and what’s left of the Liberty roster, mainly a group of first- and second-year players, must find a way not only to show up and compete in Bradenton, but to prove that they can excel in this bizarre environment.
Again, none of it seems to faze the only NCAA women’s player ever to record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.
“I don’t think I feel any pressure,” Ionescu said. “Obviously there’s going to be ups and downs and it’s going to be a grind. I’m entering the best professional league, and coming in as a rookie there’s going to be players that have more experience, players that are better, that are stronger. I’m just excited to learn.
“I know there’s going to be times when things don’t go well, there’s going to be times when things are going well, but that’s all just part of the process. I’m just excited to struggle a little bit and grow through that time and get better.”
Though she expressed her desire to play in Brooklyn during the Liberty’s first full year at Barclays before COVID-19 made that an impossibility, Ionescu insists that playing in an empty arena in Florida over the next few months can’t blemish her first foray into the pro game.
“It’s honestly not too different,” she noted. “We can get into the gym here, get shots up, go back, watch film, and then do the same thing the next day. That’s definitely what I’m used to.”
“I really don’t mind not playing in front of fans. The way that I practice and play is not really dependent on who’s watching,” Ionescu added. “I don’t think that’s something that’s necessarily going to be a detriment to our team or the way we play. I’ve enjoyed being in here and being able to focus on basketball.”
Though they’ll have to wait at least one more year to watch her play, our borough’s basketball fanatics have to be thrilled that Ionescu is Brooklyn-bound.
“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 on draft night.
“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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