New York Liberty star guard Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, will play her first game at Barclays Center next month.
Ionescu is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles and was the first player in college basketball history with at least 2,000 points as well as 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.
She developed a strong relationship with the late Kobe Bryant, who held one-on-one training sessions with her, and his daughter Gianna Bryant. Ionescu was one of the speakers at Bryant’s memorial service in February 2020.
The former Oregon standout recorded 33 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while shooting 6-for-10 from beyond the arc in just her second professional game. But she suffered an injury in the subsequent game that kept her on the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
We caught up with Ionescu to discuss her injury recovery and some of the other projects that she has worked on during the offseason leading into her sophomore campaign.
Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.
You had a remarkable start to your career. What were your initial impressions playing in the WNBA?
Sabrina Ionescu: It was really exciting. I think, entering this new stage and new chapter of my life, I wanted to learn and continue to do what I love, which is playing. I definitely had a lot of fun and I was able to learn a lot about myself and a lot about the league and a lot of the other people that were playing. I had to challenge myself through the ups and downs of playing in a bubble, starting my career in the middle of a pandemic. My season got cut short due to injury so I am especially excited for this year.
What was your injury recovery process and what have you done to come back even stronger than before?
SI: It was definitely a long process. From physical therapy to treatment and then getting surgery and rehabbing from surgery, there was a lot that went into it. It wasn’t a simple injury. It wasn’t easy. But I think sticking with it, trusting the people that I have around me that are in my circle and are there for support and positivity, kept me focused on what is most important. And that was getting healthy and getting back out there.
How has your mentality changed now that you are no longer a rookie and after such a crazy year?
SI: No matter what it is, the end goal stays the same, which is being a better version of you every day. When you get injured and you are faced with adversity, it is easy to try and veer away from that. But at the end of the day, if you can stick to that mentality no matter the adversity you are facing, you can conquer it the best that you can. It always pays off. Looking back, I’m super thankful for all my physical therapists and doctors and everyone that helped me to stay positive and on track.
You’ve only played in the bubble so far. What are you most excited for about playing at Barclays Center for the Liberty?
SI: I’m just excited to play in front of fans and in front of my family and my friends. It has been a long time coming from my senior season in college getting canceled to getting injured in my first professional season. I know my parents and my friends and family are super excited and I’m so excited to meet fans and hear people cheering and not play in a quiet arena. I’ve been able to do a virtual camp with some kids and reach out to the community and get to know them virtually but I can’t wait to see them in Brooklyn and play in front of them.
What are some of the ways you have noticed the WNBA evolve over the last several years?
SI: It’s just continuing to evolve and grow. From a couple of years ago to now, viewership is going up. We’re getting better coverage. A lot of us are standing up for one another and for each other and speaking out about what we want and demanding equality. It is really awesome to see everyone empower each other. If they are able to watch us and see what we do, we hope to empower a younger generation of girls and form a better future for them.
What are some of the ways you think seeing the ways other women have succeeded in sports has empowered you in your own life?
SI: It is definitely encouraging and awesome to see even in other sports, not necessarily just women’s basketball. When I see women who are powerful and strong, I look to see how they have a platform and use it for whatever it is that they believe in. So many [WNBA players] are speaking out about the issues that we’re having in our society and the issues that they’re facing, demanding equality and empowering one another to do so. I know as a female athlete, it gives me a sense of light and looking for judgment, especially as a younger player watching how some of the veterans go about their business. They watch out for one another. It is really honorable and humbling to be able to watch.
How have the brands that you are working with given you that platform and opportunity?
SI: It is huge. A brand partnership is something that every athlete dreams of but aligning with the right brand is what is important, especially because of the platforms that we have as athletes. I was always watching that and learning from a lot of the other athletes as I was going through this process, figuring out who I wanted to sign with and align with. It is more about what these brands stand for and who they are at their core. Bodyarmor caught my attention with their campaigns and the athletes that they represent. I got to learn a lot about other athletes and what they are accomplishing not only within their sport but outside of their sport and who they are as people, not just as athletes. I wanted to align myself with not only those great athletes but also those great people.
Kobe Bryant was a massive shareholder in Bodyarmor. I know you two had a great relationship. Did he play a role in getting you on the team?
SI: Yeah, that is how I first found out about it. I was driving to one of our practices together and he had it in his trunk with him. He threw me one and he was like: “You need to try this. We need to get you on board with this.” I tried it and it was really good and I loved it. Ever since then, I’ve been looking for them in stores and buying them. I would send him pictures. But yeah, that was my first time being introduced to it.
As a professional athlete, what are some of the things you consider when deciding what sort of products to use when you are working out?
SI: Hydration is key. I am looking for ways to find extra potassium and electrolytes. When I am working out and trying to get better, whether it is a practice or a game, I don’t want any artificial ingredients. What goes into my body is very important to me and it plays a huge role in the success that I have on the court.