Sabrina Ionescu looks to rebound from shaky debut
Liberty's rookie point guard says, 'I'm still learning. I'm a rookie.'
Welcome to the show, rookie!
That was the message that resonated throughout the fanless bowels of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida on Saturday afternoon following New York Liberty point guard Sabrina Ionsecu’s less-than-stellar WNBA debut.
Ionescu, touted as a potential transformational player in the league following a historic collegiate career at the University of Oregon and her selection as the top overall pick in this year’s WNBA Draft, struggled mightily during the Liberty’s season-opening 87-71 drubbing at the hands of the Seattle Storm.
The game was also the league-wide opener after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the WNBA into an abbreviated 22-game season at the bubble site.
“I think there’s a lot of expectation on me coming in and just producing the numbers I did in college,” Ionescu said after going 0-for-8 from 3-point range, misfiring on all but four of her 17 shots overall and committing four of New York’s 19 turnovers in the defeat.
“But I definitely think there’s going to be a lot of down and a lot of adversity I have to face in order to get there,” she added.
No one could deny Ionescu’s brilliance at Oregon, where she became the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles and averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 assists and 7.3 rebounds over the previous four years.
Ionescu also shot an eye-popping 42 percent from 3-point range as a collegian, but the Storm swarmed her throughout Saturday’s contest, forcing her to make quick decisions rather than dribble-driving her way through and around their defense as she often did at the NCAA level.
“We can refine things in every category, from defense to offense. I need to take care of the ball better,” Ionescu readily admitted.
“But I think we did some things really well; we gave them a game, especially for the first three quarters. Us predicted to finish last, and them first … we didn’t fold at the beginning because they are who they are, so I think there’s a lot of positivity in that.”
Normally there would be a lot of positivity when looking at Ionescu’s final stat line, especially for a first-year player participating in her first game as a professional.
She scored 12 points, pulled down six rebounds and handed out four assists in 34 minutes.
But the 22-year-old Walnut Creek, California native isn’t being judged on the typical rookie scale, nor did the Storm treat her as a neophyte on the world’s top circuit for women’s basketball.
“I know on every single ball screen, a lot of attention is on me and trying to get the ball out of my hands,” Ionescu revealed. “I’m still learning, I’m a rookie. I think [it’s about] just continuing to put myself in uncomfortable positions in order to grow, and that’s what I’m doing.”
That discomfort figures to continue Wednesday night, when the Liberty hit the floor at IMG for Game 2 against the Atlanta Dream, who started their season with a 105-95 victory over the Dallas Wings on Sunday.
Atlanta will undoubtedly copy-cat the Seattle defense, which attacked Ionescu as soon as she passed the mid-court stripe and denied her the opportunity to show off the formidable skills that made her the most talked about rookie in the recent history of the league.
Layshia Clarendon led the Liberty with 20 points, but she and Ionescu weren’t enough to ward off a Seattle team led by the likes of long-established superstars like Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, both of whom returned to action after missing the entire 2019 campaign.
“I was just happy to be able to see arguably the best team in the league in our first game and just learn from the defensive schemes that they threw at me and us as a team, and continue to build from that,” Ionescu said.
“I’ll live with 12, six and four and my first game against the best team. I’m not used to taking eight 3s a game. I’m used to being able to come down and be able to facilitate. Now I have to be more of a scorer.”
And more of a passer and more of a rebounder if the Liberty, who are a team built around Ionescu and a young group of first- and second-year players, are to make any noise during this campaign.
In other local pro sports news, as reported in last week’s Eagle, John Abbamondi was officially named chief executive officer of Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment Global on Tuesday, making him the new CEO of Downtown’s Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets.
“I am excited that John will join us to lead an organization that is undergoing a transformation to present the best sports and entertainment to our loyal fans and communities,” Nets and Barclays Center owner Joe Tsai said.
“He will not only bring an incredible amount of experience but also sets a strong example of character, empathy, discipline and a will to succeed.”
Abbamondi, a former vice president at Madison Square Garden, takes over for Oliver Weisberg, who acted as interim CEO after Tsai’s original choice, David Levy, stepped down from the post after only two months last November.
“I am thrilled and honored to be joining BSE Global and working with our ownership,” said Abbamondi, a Manhattan native and resident who indicated he would be moving into our borough soon.
“New York has been my home for much of my adult life, and I know first-hand the passion New Yorkers have for their sports teams. It is the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to lead the Nets franchise, Barclays Center and BSE Global’s other properties into this exciting new chapter of their history.”
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