Sabrina Ionescu: Kobe Bryant’s protege who is breaking records in the WNBA

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At just 23-years-old, Sabrina Ionescu is enjoying a record-breaking season for the New York Liberty in the WNBA. GiveMeSport Women looks at her career so far.

Ionescu made history during her side’s clash against the Minnesota Lynx last night. She tallied 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to record her first career triple-double, becoming the youngest player in WNBA history to do so. It was also the first triple-double accomplished by a New York Liberty player.

Has Ionescu always been a star in the making? We take a look.

Unparalleled NCAA career

Ionescu was already making a name for herself at high school level, ending up as the number one ranked point guard and the number four overall player in the recruiting class of 2016.

She decided to go to the University of Oregon in Eugene, joining up with the Oregon Ducks. Once there, Ionescu had a massive impact. During her four years at Oregon, she became the only NCAA Division I basketball player to record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in the competition.

A buzz was beginning to build around Ionescu. Ducks coach Kelly Graves told the Washington Post that attendances at their women’s basketball games increased dramatically during Ionescu’s time there. The average attendance before her arrival was 1,501 – this increased to more than 10,000 by the time Ionescu was in her senior year.

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First pick in 2020 WNBA Draft

Ionescu’s talent did not go unnoticed. As she was eligible to declare for the 2019 WNBA Draft, Ionescu was tipped as a possible top pick if she decided to leave the Oregon Ducks. In the end, the point guard chose to play college basketball for one more season.

The following year, Ionescu was the top pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. She was selected by New York Liberty, and went on to make three appearances for the team. Her season was then unfortunately curtailed by an ankle injury.

Her time on the sidelines has not seemed to affect Ionescu. She has been a key player in New York Liberty’s unbeaten start to this season.

Mentored by Kobe Bryant

As one of the rising stars in women’s basketball, Ionescu caught the eye of legend Kobe Bryant back in 2019.

The LA Lakers legend, who won five NBA Championships during his 20-year career, first watched Ionescu when she was playing for the Oregon Ducks against USC. Bryant had been in the crowd with his daughter Gianna and two of her teammates.

Bryant soon became a mentor to the blossoming young talent, recognising that Ionescu could become a legend herself.

"We kept in touch, always texting, calls, game visits,” Ionescu told The Times. “I’d drop a triple-double and have a text from him, 'Another double triple-double I see you' with a flex emoji. Another game, another text. 'Yo, Beast Mode,' or 'Easy money.'”

After Bryant and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in January 2020, Ionescu spoke at a celebration of his life at the Staples Centre the following month. During her speech, she highlighted Bryant’s desire to raise the profile of women’s basketball.

Ionescu also attended Bryant’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the weekend.

Growing international career

Ionescu is yet to feature for the United States national basketball team, but has starred for her country in 3x3 competitions.

Alongside Oregon teammates Erin Boley, Otiona Gildon and Ruthy Hebard, Ionescu played at the USA Basketball women's national 3x3 competition in 2018. Despite never playing 3x3 basketball before, Ionescu helped her side to a gold medal and was named the Most Valuable Player.

From there, Ionescu went to play at the 2018 3x3 World Cup and the 2019 Pan American Games, where she won gold.

With Ionescu churning out record-breaking performances in the WNBA, it surely won’t be long until she’s a star player in the American national team as well.

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