In a pre-COVID-19 world, Sabrina Ionescu would have been in Brooklyn on Monday. She would have been meeting with her new coaches, checking out apartments and holding an introductory news conference at the Liberty’s training facility.
Instead, the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft was sitting in her parents’ home in Walnut Creek, California, talking with the New York-based media via Zoom.
The Oregon point guard acknowledged that her draft night experience was far from the one she had dreamed when she was growing up. The WNBA held its draft virtually on Friday night, and Ionescu and her family participated remotely from their living room. Ionescu said they had some technological issues, so they weren’t actually sure that her name had been called by WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
“The connection was kind of off on the speaker. We really couldn’t hear when they said my name,” Ionescu said. “I think I was like, ‘I think they just said it.’ So we started celebrating, hoping it was the right time.’”
No, it was not the draft night Ionescu dreamed of, but there still have been plenty of exciting moments. In the wake of the pick, she said she received at least 200 texts. She also received calls from a number of celebrities, including Kyrie Irving, Nike designer Tinker Hatfield and Spike Lee.
Ionescu, a two-time college player of the year, has been hailed by many as a transformative sort of athlete, the type who can help bring the popularity of women’s basketball to a new level. Judging by two things that happened on Friday, she is off to a good start.
Less than an hour after Ionescu was drafted, her new Liberty jersey sold out on the WNBA.com store. She reportedly will become the first WNBA player to have a signature shoe, as she has signed a multiyear deal with Nike.
Tipoff for the WNBA season has been scheduled for May 15, but no one knows when the season will be able to start. The Liberty’s record of 10-24 was the second-worst in the league last season. Although they had the top pick in the draft and five of the top 15 selections last week, some believe that this season will be tough for them when the league does restart.
“New York is a place I’ve never played at, so it’s going to attract a whole new demographic of people there,” Ionescu said. “I’m just excited to enter a new marketplace there with new teammates and kind of hopefully shock the world.
“Today I saw we were projected to finish last in the league. And so, using that as fire, I love that stuff and take it all in. I’m just excited to start my journey there and bring in a new family of viewers.”
It’s hard to form a team, however, when you can’t be together. During the last three days, Ionescu has talked to a number of her teammates, including Asia Durr, Kia Nurse, Layshia Clarendon and Reshanda Gray.
Clarendon, who lives in the Bay Area, drove to Ionescu’s house with a box of Liberty gear and a social-distancing mask. The two met in the street and did a pantomime hug from six feet apart.
“Right now, I’m just living in the moment and taking every challenge head on,” Ionescu said. “Obviously, the draft wasn’t as expected. It wasn’t as climatic as it would be if I was able to be there and also hear my name being called, because I couldn’t hear it.
“You can always look at the negatives of everything, but what a special night with my family and those who are important to me. I think I would just focus on the now . . . Always light at the end of the tunnel.”