“The Face” of College Basketball | Sports
SAN FRANCISCO – This is how you get to levels that are not very accessible to basketball.
Colorado coach JR Payne was asked about Oregon senior Sabrina Ionescu on Monday’s Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day and the impact of the reigning Wooden Award winner on the coming season.
“Anytime you can name an athlete and everyone knows who you’re talking about just by their first name, that’s a big deal,” Payne said.
For the purposes of this story, we’ll call her Ionescu, even though the basketball world knows her as Sabrina. And no, the “world” is not exaggerated.
Oregon coach Kelly Graves shared a story of the awards circuit earlier this year, as he rubbed shoulders with basketball greats such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Jerry West and other.
“I would go up and introduce myself and they would say, ‘Oh, oh’, and then I would say, I’m Sabrina’s coach. It’s suddenly: ‘Oh, coach, nice to meet you,’ ”said Graves. “She’s going around in circles that I can only dream of. It is on a whole new level.
No would not challenge Ionescu as the face of women’s college basketball in 2019-20. Graves takes it a step further by saying “I would say she’s the face of all college basketball.”
For this reason, Ionescu faces the challenges of those who are known by first name: out-of-court claims. Many want a piece of Ionescu; an interview here, an autograph there, a myriad of public speeches.
Imagine if it was five or 10 years from now, when college players could be paid for their name, image, and likeness. The demands for Sabrina, uh, Ionescu could be crazy.
Ionescu says she hasn’t given much thought to signing a California bill last week that will allow college athletes to profit commercially from their name, image and likeness.
“I hope that whatever they decide to do, I hope everything is in the best interests of the student-athletes,” said Ionescu.
Even without business opportunities, Ionescu has a lot to do. Graves says he wants to promote his players as much as possible because there is a “little window to make himself as marketable as possible as a player.” But in Ionescu’s case, Graves says he’s become good at saying no.
“She’s pulled and pushed in so many directions,” Graves said.
Ionescu says her approach to demands off the pitch prioritizes what’s important to her and the team. She admits to having less downtime these days but doesn’t see it as a burden. Even though she is in her fourth year in a leading college role, Ionescu says she is “always nervous” when it comes to public speaking or even casually speaking to a group of schoolchildren stricken by. the stars.
“It was super fun, and something that I got used to,” Ionescu said.
Graves said that only a few times had he noticed where the requests for Ionescu had taken him, “but that doesn’t last long. … I’ve never seen her react when someone asks for an autograph, and it happens a lot. Or take a photo. She is really graceful.
While Ionescu may be the “face of college basketball,” his priority is to end a career in Oregon on a high note. Some may see this as a national title, but that’s not the only goal on Ionescu’s mind.
“There are so many steps on the way to get there,” said Ionescu. “You cannot lose sight of this. I take training very seriously, like playing in a national championship game.
Even at Ionescu’s level, his game has a hole or two. She doesn’t go into detail except to say that every facet of her game needs to be improved. Graves is careful not to give any details on skills, other than to say that his defense could use a boost.
The biggest improvement Ionescu has made in the past year is physical in nature, says Graves. He constantly emphasizes to Ionescu the importance of sleep and nutrition.
Graves said she was eating well and getting more sleep, but still not enough.
“She never takes a break,” Graves said. “I always tell him you’re not just training for this year and the Ducks. You are training for a long career in the WNBA and in Europe. There is no doubt. She’s smarter in this area.
Graves, meanwhile, plans to absorb Ionescu’s final year. After Ionescu was asked why she returned for her final year rather than turning pro, Graves provides a parallel update on what’s at stake for the senior Oregon goalie. He points out that Ionescu could be the first player – male or female – to score 2,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and distribute 1,000 assists in a college career.
“Unless there’s another Zion (Williamson) going down the pike here, and I don’t think there is one, I think Sabrina is really becoming the face of college football,” said Serious. “There’s no one who can handle this better than she can. She manages everything with grace and poise. When I travel with her, it’s like I’m with a rock star.