Sabrina Ionescu ‘excited’ at prospect of going to Liberty with No. 1 pick in WNBA draft

4:53 PM ET


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu has talked with New York Liberty coach Walt Hopkins, but she is not taking for granted that she will be selected No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft on Friday.

“I’ve talked to their coach a little bit, and he’s been awesome,” Ionescu said during a Zoom teleconference Tuesday. “Obviously, they have a new staff in place. I’m just excited if I get that opportunity. I think they have the right pieces in place, and the goals and the vision that coaching staff and the front office has for that team are bright.

“Obviously, the speculation is that I’m going there. Me as a person — and I think everyone knows how I am — I don’t walk around telling people I’m going to Brooklyn or that’s where I’m going to be. I know the media and everyone around is kind of assuming that’s where I am going to be. But I was just happy to get on the phone and tell him I’m excited and humbled for the opportunity, wherever I land.”

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Ionescu is still picking up awards for her senior season, adding the Honda Sport Award for women’s basketball, presented by the Collegiate Women Sports Awards, on Tuesday.

The Liberty, previously owned by MSG and Knicks owner James Dolan, was purchased by Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai in January 2019 and is scheduled to play in Barclays Center this season. Hopkins, who previously was an assistant with the Minnesota Lynx, was hired Jan. 8 to replace Katie Smith, a former WNBA standout who coached the Liberty in 2018 and ’19.

Hopkins was asked Monday what stood out the most to him in scouting Ionescu, who finished her college career with 26 triple-doubles and hit the 2,000/1,000/1,000 mark in points, rebounds and assists.

“She’s really just a phenomenal leader in multiple ways,” Hopkins said. “She’s not somebody who just stands back and says what to do. She’ll come down on teammates, but it’s in a way that’s constructive, and you can watch their body language as they take that feedback.

“It’s not easy to be that type of a leader because you have to be doing everything you’re saying in order to have the credibility to lead the way that she did.”

This is the first time the Liberty, an original WNBA franchise dating to 1997, have had the No. 1 pick. Last year, New York picked second and took Louisville guard Asia Durr, who has played alongside Ionescu with USA Basketball in recent years.

The Liberty have yet to win a WNBA title. They played for the first WNBA championship — which was one game, not a series — and fell to Houston. They also lost in the WNBA Finals to the Comets in 1999 and 2000 and to Los Angeles in 2002.

New York has missed the playoffs the past two seasons, going 17-51 in that span.

Ionescu was asked what Hopkins told her about her potential role with the team.

“That I would be a piece of the puzzle that would make them go,” Ionescu said. “They have good guards and good players potentially coming in. So I think just being a key factor in what’s going to make that team go.

“Obviously, they’re not where they need to be, and that’s a learning and growing process. I’ve been a part of that for four years. So I understand, really more than anyone, what it’s like to come into an organization and have to believe in the foundation that’s there. And then try to ride the wave, the ups and downs, from there.”

Ionescu gave her endorsement to the Liberty’s new logo, which was unveiled Tuesday, and talked about how she might fit in from a marketing perspective.

“I’ve only been there twice, so I don’t really know a lot about New York,” Ionescu said. “Just the marketability there is in New York, and kind of the hustle and bustle is something I think can be not only beneficial to myself as a person, but as a brand for women’s basketball. If I get that opportunity, I’ll definitely be excited to use that to the best of my ability.”

As for the decision on a shoe deal, Ionescu said she hopes to pick before the draft.

“The money is important, but I think just the vision, and the kind of plan they have in place for me,” Ionescu said. “… Just hoping to get with a brand that can use me on their platform to advocate for something bigger than just basketball.”

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