Sabrina Ionescu has bigger plans for Liberty, WNBA: ‘A voice’

Sabrina Ionescu emerged as both a generational talent and a face of women’s basketball during her college career at Oregon.

Now, New York City and the WNBA await.

The Liberty made a long-anticipated and easy decision official Friday night by selecting Ionescu, the superstar point guard, with the first-overall pick of the WNBA Draft, marking what could turn out to be a monumental day for the franchise.

“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 on 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.”

Ionescu, whose play and competitive fire enthralled a fanbase that grew to include the likes of Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and LeBron James, rewrote the NCAA record book for men and women during her dominant college career. The 5-foot-11 pick-and-roll specialist finished her four-year career with 2,562 points, 1,091 assists and 1,040 rebounds — the first-ever player to surpass 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds — while setting a new standard with 26 career triple-doubles.

After leaving her mark on Oregon and the women’s college game, Ionescu will have the chance to do the same for the Liberty and WNBA — a challenge the two-time national player of the year is diving into head-first.

“I know there’s a lot of pressure, but I’m really just excited to take that on and see where it takes me,” said Ionescu, who confirmed she had signed with Nike after Under Armour and Puma both vied for her endorsement in a sneaker war. “Just excited to use that as motivation to continue to get better in all aspects of my game.”

Sabrina IonescuGetty Images

The Liberty have gone 17-51 over the past two seasons, which helped them win the draft lottery last September. They have a new head coach in Walt Hopkins, whose offense features the pick-and-roll that Ionescu mastered at Oregon, and, whenever the season is able to begin in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, will start playing their home games at Barclays Center. They also traded away their most established star, Tina Charles, on Wednesday, but after two more trades Friday night, they wound up with six new draft picks (all in the top 15 overall) to inject the roster with young talent and versatility.

The blank canvas is now Ionescu’s to take over.

“Sabrina has been preparing to take this on for quite some time,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said on a conference call. “If you just look at her overall trajectory over the past four years, it seems that people just seem to gravitate to her and it seems like the responsibility, if you can call it that, of being that next transcendent player — a player that transcends the game and bridges the gap from the women’s game to the men’s game and back and forth — I think Sabrina’s been building for that and I think she’s ready for that. She has a name recognition that was built from her work product. It wasn’t given to her, she built this.

“There isn’t a challenge that I’ve seen Sabrina take on that she hasn’t won. If that isn’t New York, I don’t know what is.”

The Liberty traded the No. 26 pick in the draft to the Minnesota Lynx in exchange for 25-year-old Australian Stephanie Talbot.

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After taking Sabrina Ionescu with the first-overall pick on Friday, the Liberty made another five first-round picks. Here’s a look at how they did:

Pick   Name                    Position      Height    School

1.       Sabrina Ionescu         G            5-11       Oregon

The two-time national player of the year was the queen of triple-doubles, piling up an NCAA-record 26.

9.       Megan Walker           F              6-1         UConn

One of three draft-eligible juniors this year, Walker led the Huskies with 19.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg.

10.*   Jocelyn Willoughby   G/F           6-0         Virginia

The Newark native led the ACC in scoring (19.2 ppg) and was named its women’s basketball scholar-athlete of the year.

12.    Jazmine Jones            G              6-0          Louisville

Averaged 14.1 points with a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio as an All-ACC defensive guard.

13.    Kylee Shook               F              6-4          Louisville

The ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year left as the school’s all-time blocks leader with 223.

15.    Leaonna Odom          F              6-2          Duke

Provides versatility and length after averaging 14.3 points and 6..2 rebounds per game.

26.** Erica Ogwumike           G             5-9           Rice

After picking the Conference USA Player of the Year, the Liberty sent her to the Lynx for 25-year-old Australian forward Stephanie Talbot.

*-Acquired in trade via Phoenix

**Traded pick to Minnesota

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