Every year, professional sports leagues across North America conduct their entry drafts, selecting the most promising players available in hopes of finding the ones who have what it takes to play at the next level.
However, every so often there is one player who stands head and shoulders above their peers as a projected superstar. In 2015, Connor McDavid was a shoo-in to be picked first at the NHL Draft. It was a given that Zion Williamson was going No. 1 in 2019 at the NBA Draft. For this year’s WNBA Draft, that player is Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu.
Ionescu's resume from her four years at the University of Oregon is stellar. She is the first NCAA Division I basketball player (man or woman) to record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds in a career and is the NCAA's all-time career leader in triple-doubles (26). Oregon was a perfect 26-0 when Ionescu recorded a triple-double.
In her senior season, she averaged 17. 5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists which parlayed into her winning the Wade Trophy, the Naismith Award, the Wooden Award, Honda Sports Award and Associated Press player of the year. Unfortunately with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the sports world, it robbed Ionescu of the chance to play for a national championship.
The 22-year-old has already shown she can hang with the pros, as she was a big factor in Oregon's 93-86 exhibition win over Team USA in November. Meant as an Olympic tune-up for the national team, Ionescu struggled in the first half of the game before exploding for 20 points in the third quarter. She finished with a game-high 30 points. It was the first time in 20 years a college team had beaten Team USA.
Ionescu has also been able to count on having some of basketball’s best in her corner. She had Kobe Bryant as a mentor and friend before his tragic death in January and has forged a close relationship with Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry.
The New York Liberty own this year's first overall pick. An original WNBA franchise since 1997, the Liberty have never held the first pick nor have they won a title. And it appears they’ve already cast an eye towards the future, having traded former WNBA MVP and leading scorer Tina Charles to the defending champion Washington Mystics on Wednesday.
Charles, 31, was the first overall pick at the 2010 WNBA Draft out of UConn and has gone on to have a strong career. She led the Liberty last season averaging 16.9 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
The list of WNBA first overall picks who have gone on to have successful careers is long. Eighteen out of 24 first overall picks have appeared in an All-Star game with 12 also making an all-WNBA team.
Players like Ionescu don't come along every day, certainly not ones who piled up records like she did. In her four years at Oregon, she made the team a must-see every game. The question isn’t whether Ionescu is good enough for the WNBA. It’s whether or not she can parlay that superstar hype into a lucrative pro career. And if anyone has the ability to turn that potential into reality, it’s Ionescu.