Being selected first overall hits different when the team that picks you resides in the Big Apple.
But so far, in her first full season, the expectations haven’t weighed down New York Liberty second-year point guard Sabrina Ionescu, who is proving that her game is tailor-made for the city that never sleeps.
Ionescu’s rookie season did not go as planned – but that wasn’t her fault, per se.
She played in only three games before a sprained right ankle ended her season, but so far in 2021, she’s making up for lost time, coming out on fire in her sophomore campaign and proving not only that she is worthy of her top pick but also that she is already one of the WNBA’s elite players.
Through five games this season, Ionescu is averaging 18.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists, showing the stat-sheet-stuffing abilities that made her the 2020 Naismith Player of the Year as a senior at Oregon.
Her college résumé is as decorated as that of any player to have competed in women’s college basketball. Ionescu is the all-time leader in triple-doubles (26), and she is the first player with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.
It didn’t take her long to log her first triple-double in the WNBA – in her sixth game, to be exact – making history as the youngest player in WNBA history to record a triple-double.
That triple-double hasn’t been the only way Ionescu has made her presence felt thus far this season.
In the Liberty’s season opener, she drained a game-winning 3-pointer against the Indiana Fever as part of a 25-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance.
After the 3, head coach Walt Hopkins had the highest praise for his budding superstar guard.
“She has a pretty special way of rising to the moment. You get to see it every day in practice,” he said. “Those big-time situations is where she shines. It’s what she lives for. I’m pretty excited she’s on my team.”
It was a moment Ionescu had dreamed of, she admitted in her postgame media conference.
“I 100 percent had a vision of hitting a game-winner,” she said. “We were tied walking into the huddle, and I was smiling. It was too good to be true. … I was ready for the moment.”
To make the moment even more special, she wore a “Mamba Mentality” Lakers jersey honoring the late Kobe Bryant before the game.
Ionescu and Bryant shared a relationship before his death, which she spoke about during her commencement speech upon graduating from Oregon.
The “Mamba Mentality” seems to be prominent within Ionescu.
And so far, that approach to the game has her shining brightly on the New York marquee.
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