Ionescu picks up WNBA torch as she steps into New York spotlight


NEW YORK (Reuters) – With expectations higher than the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the WNBA’s number-one overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu is poised to transform the New York Liberty and ready to torch the competition with the national spotlight pointed on her.

Already dubbed “Lady Liberty” in the pages of the New York Post, the Big Apple is ready to roll out the red carpet for the University of Oregon guard, who was the first NCAA player to score 2,000 career points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

Now, she is ready to embrace the super-sized “platform” and “voice” that comes with the league’s biggest media market.

“Obviously, it starts with basketball, hoping to get people to buy into the team and show up to games,” said Ionescu. “But just using our platform as a women’s basketball player to do more than just that.

“I’m excited to stand for something more than just being a basketball player in that city.”

It is not yet clear when Ionescu’s professional career will officially take off, with the WNBA season – originally scheduled to begin May 15 – on hold amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Regardless, she will find herself on a team in transition: Moving into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with new head coach Walt Hopkins and the arguable face of the franchise, Tina Charles, headed to Washington, D.C. in a trade with the Mystics.

New York Liberty claimed five of the first 15 picks in Friday’s draft, with an eye toward revitalizing its roster after two back-to-back seasons of lackluster performance.

“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,” said Ionescu, who sees similarities in the Liberty program and the one she came to know at Oregon.

“They have great guards there, with their ability to shoot and spread the floor out, but also run in transition,” the 22-year-old said. “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.”

Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Himani Sarkar