Get to know Sabrina Ionescu, from her stellar Oregon career to Kobe Bryant friendship

All eyes are on Sabrina Ionescu this week as she prepares to be the likely No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. Ionescu is in that position thanks to her incredible talent — matched by an equally impressive career at Oregon — which has led her to become friends with some of the best basketball players in the game.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic canceled major sporting events across the world, including the NCAA Women’s Tournament, Ionescu looked to lead the projected 1-seed Ducks to the national championship, just four years removed from the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Ionescu very well could have done just that; she is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles and the Pac-12 Conference’s all-time leader in assists. Ionescu won the Naismith and Wade trophies — on top of her second-straight Wooden Award — as the best player in women’s college basketball for the 2019-20 season. She also was named national player of the year by the Associated Press, USBWA and ESPN.

Here’s everything you need to know about Ionescu’s Oregon career as she takes her game to the next level:

Sabrina Ionescu Oregon stats

On Feb. 24, 2020, in the Ducks’ 74-66 win at No. 4 Stanford, Ionescu became the first NCAA player ever (man or woman) to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds in a career.

Ionescu had previously passed the 2,000-point, 1,000-assist milestones, but entered the game nine rebounds short of 1,000. With 1:50 left in the third quarter, she made history.

Ionescu career stats at Oregon

Sabrina Ionescu Oregon highlights

Ionescu’s 2,000-1,000-1,000 mark may be her most notable recent highlight, but she has enjoyed plenty more over her four-year career in Eugene.

The season before Ionescu arrived, the average home attendance for the Ducks was 1,501. By her sophomore season, it had increased to more than 4,200; in her junior season, that average jumped to 7,148. Wherever she goes, Ionescu raises the attendance — even on the road. When the Ducks visited Washington during her junior season, the crowd was 3,000 more than the Huskies drew two nights earlier against Oregon State.

Ionescu helped lead the Ducks to 23 wins as a freshman in 2016-17; that mark improved to 33, 33 and 31 in her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, respectively. The team also reached the Elite Eight in each of her first three seasons, including the Final Four in 2019.

Because she would have been 22 before the end of 2019, Ionescu was eligible to declare for the 2019 WNBA Draft, where she likely would have been a top pick. Instead, Ionescu chose to come back to Oregon for her senior year, saying in “The Players’ Tribune” that she would be back her senior year to attend to “unfinished business” — meaning an Oregon national championship. She penned the open letter the day after Oregon lost to Baylor in the Final Four.

With her leading the way, Oregon also won the Pac-12 regular-season titles in 2018, ’19 and ’20 and the Pac-12 Tournament in 2018 and ’20. Here are some highlights packages from Ionescu’s storied Oregon career:

2020 Pac-12 championship highlights

2019 NCAA Tournament highlights

2018 NCAA Tournament highlights

2018 Pac-12 championship highlights

2016-17 highlights

Sabrina Ionescu height

Ionescu is listed at 5-11, 3 inches taller than the average WNBA guard (5-8).

Sabrina Ionescu-Kobe Bryant friendship

Ionescu became the first player to reach the historic 2,000-1,000-1,000 mark on one of the most difficult days of her life — after speaking at Kobe Bryant’s celebration of life earlier that morning.

Bryant was invested in the future of women’s basketball, and he and Ionescu bonded through their shared interest in the sport. Ionescu considered him a mentor and a friend, and even helped coach his daughter, Gianna “Gigi” Bryant. Ionescu said it was special for her to reach that milestone on Feb. 24 (2/24) in honor of both Kobe and Gigi — Gianna Bryant wore No. 2, and Kobe Bryant wore No. 24 for half of his career.

“That one was for him,” Ionescu said. “To do it on 2/24/20 is huge. We had talked about it in the preseason. I can’t really put that into words. He’s looking down and really proud of me and just really happy for this moment with my team.”

Ionescu also secured her 26th triple-double in the fourth quarter as Oregon clinched the Pac-12 regular-season title with a 74-66 win over Stanford. Ionescu finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Bay Area for life

Ionescu grew up in Walnut Creek, Calif., 30 minutes from where the Warriors play in Oracle Arena. When Oregon played Cal in February, Steph Curry brought his daughters to see their first ever women’s basketball game.

Ionescu has attended Warriors games for years, and has become friends with Curry; while he doesn’t know if his daughters will play basketball, he still views Ionescu as a role model for them.

“It’s amazing to see what she’s made of herself,” Curry told ESPN after the game, a 93-61 win for the Ducks. “And it’s amazing what she’s done on the court. How that’s transformed the attention and awareness of where the women’s game is. The eye test when you see her out on the floor. Stats, they mean a lot. But when you get to watching somebody and see the passion that she brings, it’s in her eyes.

“The competitive nature that she has, you can’t teach that.”

How to pronounce Sabrina Ionescu’s name

Ionescu’s name, which is Romanian, has caused some confusion as to its pronunciation. People won’t be getting her last name wrong for much longer if her meteoric rise continues.

Repeat after us: YO-ness-coo.

It should be noted Ionescu is the daughter of Romanian immigrants. Her father, Dan Ionescu, left Romania during the 1989 revolution and sought asylum in America. He ended up owning a limousine service in northern California, where he had chosen to settle because of several extended family members in that area. Sabrina and her brother are both “fairly fluent” in Romanian. Speaking of which. …

Sabrina Ionescu’s twin Eddy also plays for Oregon

Ionescu has a twin brother, Eddy, who also plays basketball at Oregon. They’ve jokingly compared themselves to “(Steph) Curry and Klay (Thompson),” with Ionescu being Curry. Ionescu is older by 18 minutes, and they have been very competitive since childhood. When she was younger, Ionescu played on a club team and filled in on Eddy’s all-male team when needed.

Ionescu admitted to the Washington Post that she is a “natural scorer,” but the development of the rest of her game came from playing alongside boys and older girls.

“When I was younger, I was always playing with the guys, and I had to find ways to get the ball, because they never wanted to pass to me,” Ionescu said in an interview. “So I figured that if I could rebound, I would be able to get the ball myself. Then passing-wise, when I was in sixth grade playing with the eighth-grade team, I was obviously a lot shorter, skinnier, smaller than they were. I would just have to find ways to impact the game other than shooting or scoring, and that was passing.”

In Ionescu’s middle school, there weren’t enough players to form a girls’ team. When she requested to play on the boys’ team, she was denied.

“My middle school said I should be playing with dolls. Seriously, word-for-word,” Ionescu told the Post. “It’s funny now. I wish I could go back and just tell those people they had made a mistake.”

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