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Ionescu speaks after brief rookie season with Liberty

Phenom says season-ending injury was 'blessing in disguise'

October 8, 2020 John Torenli
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Sabrina Ionescu went from surefire phenom to spectator with one untimely step just over two months ago.

The New York Liberty point guard, who played in only three games during her much-anticipated rookie campaign, has finally revealed what she was thinking moments after her season-ending ankle injury on July 31.

“How can I get this wrapped up to continue to play and win the game? Because we would have won the game,” Ionescu brashly said via Zoom Wednesday afternoon in her first media interview since the gruesome scene.

Ballyhooed as a potential transformational player for the WNBA following a standout career at the University of Oregon that earned her two Wooden Awards as the best player in the nation and an NCAA record for triple-doubles, Ionescu was primed to take Brooklyn by storm in 2020.

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But COVID-19 ended any hopes that the Liberty would spend their first full season at Barclays Center and Ionescu, the first overall pick in this year’s WNBA Draft, suffered a Grade 3 sprain of her left ankle during a loss to the Atlanta Dream on that final day of July.

She was forced to immediately leave the league’s bubble site in Bradenton, Florida and head back to New York for further medical prognosis.

After averaging 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in two-plus contests, Ionescu was told that there was no use returning to the IMG Academy to rejoin her teammates, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

So the 22-year-old Walnut Creek, California resident was back home cheering the Liberty on via television, and made sure to stay in touch with them every step of the way through what turned out to be a league-worst 2-20 season.

Despite being denied a chance to build further on a scintillating 33-point effort against Dallas on July 29, Ionescu wasn’t bitter about her all-too-brief first taste of being a professional women’s basketball player.

“I am really blessed to have played almost three games in the league to see what it was like and know how I need to train, how I need to prepare to be able to play to that level,” Ionescu said.

“And so now I can really do that and focus on that in this offseason, which I’m really excited about.”

So is Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins, who watched his young, inexperienced team play shorthanded throughout the abbreviated campaign.

Though New York was competitive for most of its games, it lacked the one thing Ionescu was sure to bring to the team on a nightly basis: a ravenous hunger to win and climb back to the top of the WNBA.

“We had to really sit down as a staff and talk about the long-term repercussions of the choices we made post-Sabrina injury, because we had two options,” Hopkins said last month. “We could change everything for this season and try to salvage a seven or an eight seed or whatever, and win a few more games.

“Or, we had the choice to say, ‘You know what, we’re going to stick with this because it’s never been about this year.’”

Though they stuck together without her, the New York Liberty missed rookie Sabrina Ionescu dearly during a 2-20 season at the WNBA bubble site in Bradenton, Florida. Photo: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

To her credit, Ionescu made the most of the time away from the hardwood, something she hadn’t experienced in quite some time as one of the nation’s most celebrated amateur and pro athletes.

“Being at home, seeing my family more than I ever have and now just starting this foundation of what I want to do with my career, so just starting with nutrition, starting to get my body right in all aspects — it’s really given me a time to reflect,” she said of the extended stretch at home.

“It’s kind of been a blessing in disguise because I’ve been able to focus on things I’ve never been able to focus on before.”

Though she continues to be unable to play competitive basketball, Ionescu is staying fit and working hard at everything else she does.

She intimated that yoga, weight lifting, hoops drills, and pilates are part of her daily routine and even hinted that she might spend some time playing overseas ahead of next season to get a head start.

Regardless of where or when she winds up playing again, Ionescu remained thankful to her friends, family and all those who wished her a quick and full recovery since her season ended prematurely and before most Brooklynites got a chance to truly appreciate her.

“I think there’s just so many of people that I’m close to and try to lean on for inspiration,” Ionescu said of her supporters during a trying first season with the Brooklyn-based Liberty.

“Obviously they’ve gone through this and they know what it’s like, so obviously having those words of encouragement, having that support system virtually is not really ideal, but I think it’s better than nothing. I’m just so happy to be able to talk to them while I was gone but obviously now to continue that relationship in my rehab.”

Unfortunate injuries notwithstanding, Ionescu figures to be in a long and fruitful relationship with our borough and the WNBA.

Once she gets back to what she loves doing most.

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