Liberty choose Ionescu with WNBA's No. 1 overall pick
4/17/2020 8:46:53 PM EST
Oregon basketball standout Sabrina Ionescu has been to New York only twice.
Now the Big Apple will be home to what she hopes is a fruitful professional career.
The New York Liberty selected Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft on Friday, adding one of the most decorated players in college basketball history to a squad that tied for next to last in the league in 2019.
There was no doubt Ionescu, a senior guard, would be top selection after she became the second-ever unanimous winner of the AP player of the year award while winning her second Wooden Award, her second Wade Trophy and her third Pac-12 player of the year award.
"I'm just really blessed to be in this position that I've worked so hard for my entire life," Ionescu said of being selected first overall.
Ionescu capped a storied collegiate career as the only athlete in NCAA men's or women's basketball history to surpass 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. In addition, she notched an NCAA-record 26 career triple-doubles.
Ionescu also gained distinction as the first Oregon player selected in the first round of the WNBA draft. Two other Ducks teammates joined that club just moments later, as the Dallas Wings selected junior forward Satou Sabally second overall, and the Chicago Sky took senior forward Ruthy Hebard with their eighth pick.
"It's so exciting," Sabally said. "I mean, I would have never thought that I would be able to get picked so high. It just shows that the people that have been supporting me have really been showing me so much love and appreciation and have supported me along the way, so I mean, props to my family and my friends. They told me that I would get picked high, but I never really believed in it until now."
Friday marked the first time teammates were selected with the first two picks since 2016, when Connecticut's Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck were chosen Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively.
With the picks of Ionescu, Sabally and Hebard, the WNBA draft had a trio of first-round selections from one program for the fifth year in a row.
New York and Dallas made three first-round picks apiece, combining to encompass half of the first-round picks in the 12-team league. The Liberty and Mystics both finished 10-24 in 2019, two games ahead of the cellar-dwelling Atlanta Dream.
New York, which traded franchise stalwart Tina Charles to the reigning WNBA champion Washington Mystics on Wednesday in a deal that also involved Dallas, also added Connecticut forward Megan Walker (No. 9) and Louisville guard Jazmine Jones (No. 12).
After Sabally, Dallas drafted Princeton guard/forward Bella Alarie with the No. 5 pick and South Carolina guard Tyasha Harris at No. 7.
Other first-round picks included: No. 3, Indiana Fever, Baylor forward Lauren Cox; No. 4, Atlanta Dream, Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter; No. 6, Minnesota Lynx, South Carolina forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan; No. 10, Phoenix Mercury, Virginia guard/forward Jocelyn Willoughby; and No. 11, Seattle Storm, TTT Riga (Latvia) wing Kitija Laksa.
With the COVID-19 pandemic halting professional sports -- and much of society -- the league conducted the draft virtually, with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert introducing picks from her home in New Jersey.
"We felt it was really important to move forward with this as a virtual draft because prospects who had worked so hard, they didn't get their NCAA Tournament, and so to hear their names called tonight, I think we're going to make some dreams come true for sure," Engelbert said.
Ionescu was among that number, to be sure. Before Ionescu's on-air interview during the draft telecast on ESPN, coverage anchors Ryan Ruocco and Rebecca Lobo showed viewers a video of a 12-year-old Ionescu professing her goal to one day play in the WNBA.
Subsequently speaking live from home, Ionescu said, "I'm looking to do everything that I possibly can to get better in every aspect, whether that's scoring, defending, rebounding, passing. I'm really just excited to be playing against professionals and learning from them and just seeing where that takes me."
New York added five players in addition to Ionescu, but not all of them were initially drafted by the Liberty.
After taking Rice guard Erica Ogwumike -- the sister of Los Angeles Sparks players Nneka and Chiney -- with the No. 26 pick, the Liberty dealt Ogwumike to the Lynx for Stephanie Talbot.
Additionally, the Liberty traded Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to Phoenix for Willoughby. Walker-Kimbrough had just been acquired by New York in the Charles deal.
The Connecticut Sun, who finished as WNBA runners-up in 2019, drafted Maryland guard/forward Kaila Charles in the second round and Baylor guard Juicy Landrum in the third round.
The Mystics added a pair of players as they attempt to repeat as WNBA champs, picking Creighton forward Jaylyn Agnew in the second round and closing the three-round event by taking Texas guard Sug Sutton at No. 36 overall.
--Field Level Media