Sabrina Ionescu on Kobe Bryant, Her Liberty Jersey Already Selling Out and Postponed WNBA Debut

Furthermore, Ionescu made the decision to return to college basketball for her final season at Oregon to handle some "unfinished business" after her Ducks lost the 2019 NCAA national semifinals to Baylor. But unfortunately, Ionescu was never given a chance of title contention due to the cancellation of this year's NCAA Tournament amid the global health crisis.

"It's for sure been bittersweet but I'm just excited to be given the opportunity to play after college because the season was cut short," she says. "It's a completely different chapter and I'm excited for the ups and downs that has to offer."

Since the NCAA Tournament was called off, Ionescu has been putting in hours to improve her already impressive gameplay. "I took a little bit of time off after the season and now I'm starting to do workouts again. I think it'll be easier when we do have a target date and know when we have to be ready but I've definitely stayed mentally and physically in shape just because that's what I do regardless," she shares.

During the virtual draft, Gianna and her Mamba Academy teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, who also died in the Jan. 26 helicopter crash, were named honorary draftees. Commissioner Engelbert also announced a new award in honor of the star Los Angeles Lakers player and his daughter, titled the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, "which will recognize an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women's and girls' basketball at all levels." (The first recipient is expected to be announced during NBA All-Star Weekend in 2021.)

"It's only right, they deserve it more than anyone," Ionescu says of Gianna's honor. "That was her goal, she wanted to play professional and go to college and play. She had that work ethic and that drive that would've gotten her there. I thought it was great for the league to do that for not only her but her family and her teammates and friends. It was an honor to be up there with her during that time of celebration."

And for her WNBA debut, Ionescu is ready to implement what she learned from her mentor Kobe, especially "how he took on the game and the approach that he had ever since he entered the league."

The star adds, "Obviously, there's gonna be a lot of ups and downs being a professional and leaving college. You're relying on the fact that what got you there has been enough. And now you have to do even more and continue to get better."

When federal guidelines are lifted and sports are able to resume, Ionescu will be playing against her former Oregon teammates, forward Satou Sabally, who was drafted to the Dallas Wings, and post Ruthy Hebard who was selected to the Chicago Sky.

"Super excited to see them get drafted. It's been a dream of ours going through these years with them, that was our goal. We pushed each other for that, I'm so excited to be able to see all of our names get called. I'm excited to see each other and hopefully celebrate soon," Ionescu says.

As for what the California native is looking forward to in the Big Apple, Ionescu says she's "excited to get to a new city and a new culture, to take all that in."

But for the time being, she just can't wait to be a competitor on the court again. "I just hope I play and do well, and our team wins. I'm just excited for that. I'm excited to go out there and start competing against other players. Start to get back to the normal sport culture," Ionescu says.

"People can't get into gyms now and people can't really do what they're used to doing, so I do think there will be a different fire and energy around the fact we can start playing sports again," she predicts.

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