Sabrina Ionescu Ushers In New Era of WNBA Hoops, NY Liberty Dynasty

It was almost how it would have been scripted in a movie. Arguably the greatest women’s college basketball force in history takes her act from the open trails of Oregon to the bright lights and bustle of New York City, which has been the centerpiece of the coronavirus pandemic

Sabrina Ionescu would be playing for the Las Vegas Aces right now if she entered the WNBA Draft last year, but luckily for New York, she chilled for a season and tonight she was selected by the Liberty as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 Draft.

Just like that, she went from Matthew Knight Arena in Oregon to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 

The hype that followed Ionescu in college has now exploded and she has no choice but to be the next best thing in women’s hoops. She’s already been adopted by her male peers as the leader of the next generation of multi-faceted ballers who will make the WNBA a more popular and talented league. It’s already the No. 1 women’s professional league in history. Now it has a Top 3 player, with Grade A visibility in a Top 3 market.

Yeah, the Liberty will be playing at the Barclays Center for their 23rd season. With New York needing a significant basketball boost, Ionescu’s arrival seems like destiny.  

“I just think being a part of a younger team and just trying to learn from them and seeing where I fit in, what role I’m going to play, is exciting,” Ionescu said. “Bringing a competitive spirit that I have. I’m just excited to get there and work with the team and hopefully just continue to use my platform and what I did at Oregon and bring that to the Liberty.

Ionescu, a three-time Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the nation’s top point guard, averaged 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and an NCAA-leading 9.1 assists as a senior with the Ducks.

The stats-stuffer holds the NCAA record for career triple-doubles and is the only NCAA woman or man to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 1,000 assists.

A friend and mentee of the late Kobe Bryant, Ionescu’s public profile exploded after she spoke eloquently at the memorial service for the NBA legend and his daughter Gianna in February.

Building A Championship Contender

The Liberty used the ninth and 12th picks – its second and third selections of the first round – on Connecticut forward Megan Walker and Louisville guard Jazmine Jones.  Walker, a junior, was named a First Team All-American and the AAC Player of the Year this past season. Jones capped her college career with All-ACC First Team and ACC All-Defensive Team honors.

In January, the Liberty hired former Minnesota Lynx assistant Walt Hopkins as the 8th head coach in the franchise’s history. 

During his time as an assistant coach with the Lynx, Hopkins helped accumulate a 63-39 record, three consecutive trips to the WNBA Playoffs and one WNBA Championship.

He’s already inherited a solid young nucleus of potential All-Stars in this Draft, aided by the blockbuster Tina Charles trade. 

The Liberty traded the best player in franchise history to the Washington Mystics as part of a three-team deal on Wednesday to clean out the closet and prepare for a new era. 

New coach. New team. And a 22-year-old Black Mamba disciple entering the league as a Top 5 talent — with a NIKE deal. 

Add the new talent in with Kia Nurse and last year’s No. 2 overall pick Asia Durr, other key players and additions and the Liberty are primed for a return to the glory days of T-Spoon and the crew. 

“They have great guards there, with their ability to shoot and spread the floor out, but also run in transition,” Ionescu told the virtual media after she was drafted. “Walt runs a great offense. The pick-and-roll is something that I’m familiar with. Being able to enter an offense where it’s been really similar to what I’ve been playing with the last four years is exciting. I’m just excited to continue to grow my game in that aspect.”

In the second round, the Liberty selected two-time Conference USA Player of the Year Erica Ogwumike of Rice before trading her rights to the Lynx for forward Stephanie Talbot. Ogwumike is the younger sister of former No. 1 overall picks and current Los Angeles Sparks teammates Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. No family has ever had three sisters play in the WNBA.

This automatically elevates the Ogwumike’s to “First Family” of the WNBA. Somehow I think she will end up in LA with her sisters. 

 But for now, the lights will be on Ionescu and we’ll find out quickly if she can handle the Big Apple and deliver the city its first WNBA championship.  

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.