Women’s basketball continues to grow in prominence on the American sports scene with the WNBA and the Women’s NCAA Tournament both growing in popularity and viewership over the past several years. One of the brightest rising stars on both those prominent stages over the past few years has been Sabrina Ionescu, who seems poised to become the future face of the WNBA after a dominant college career.
To celebrate Ionescu’s rise to prominence and her limitless future upside, Autograph and DraftKings are teaming up to release a series of NFTs as part of the series called “The Future is..” The release consists of three NFTs and will feature challenges that unlock utility and rewards, enhancing the NFT experience over the course of multiple weeks. Challenges allow community members exclusive access and reflect the athletes’ passions from style to shoes and cars. The designs of the NFTs were made in collaboration with up-and-coming artists to give distinct creativity to the next generation, and they look stunningly cool. Make sure to check them out in the DraftKings Marketplace.
In her rise to become the future of women’s basketball, Ionescu has had to overcome several different kinds of obstacles on her way to the top. Before she was born, her family fled Romania during the communist revolution, and Sabrina and her twin brother Eddy were born in Walnut Creek, California on Dec. 6, 1997. There weren’t many girls' programs for her as she was growing up, but she found a way to continue to improve and pushed herself to be the best.
She started playing basketball when she was just three years old and often competed against her older brother, Andrei, and her twin brother, Eddy. Since she was playing with boys that were often older than her, she found she had to find ways to get the ball as much as she could. As a result, she became a great rebounder despite her small size and an excellent passer, so that others on her team would let her have the ball. She had a natural competitive streak which especially showed against her twin brother. During one stretch, she worked on nothing but her left hand for weeks after Eddy said that his left hand was stronger than hers.
By the time she was old enough for High School and AAU play, Ionescu had developed a strong left hand as part of her well-rounded game. Her high school team was a dominant 119-9 during Sabrina’s tenure, and she set the school record with 2,606 points while posting 21 triple-doubles. In 2016, she was one of the most heavily recruited athletes but didn’t sign a letter of intent during either the early signing period or the late period. Just before school began that summer, she made the decision to join the Oregon Ducks, where she would become the face of the next wave of women’s basketball stars.
Ionescu was both Pac-12 Freshmen of the Year and USBWA National Freshman of the Year in 2016, but she really took off during her sophomore year. She led the Pac-12 in scoring with 19.2 points per game while also handing out 7.8 assists per game. In that season, she also became the NCAA women’s all-time leader in triple-doubles, and by the time she graduated would have more triple-doubles than any other player in College Basketball history, male or female.
The “Triple-Double Queen” led her Ducks to the Final Four in 2019 during her Jr. year, where they fell to the eventual national champion Baylor. Her consistent excellence that season resulted in her taking home the John R. Wooden Award, the AP College Basketball Player of the Year, the USBWA National Player of the Year, the Naismith College Player of the Year, the ESPY for Top Female College Athlete and the ESPN.com National Player of the Year. She was eligible for the WNBA draft but opted to return to school for her Sr. year since she had “unfinished business” at Oregon.
After another outstanding season with the Ducks in which she became the first NCAA player to ever accumulate 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds, Ionescu and the Ducks had a 31-2 record highlighted by wins over Stanford and UCONN. The win over the Huskies was especially poignant since it came just days after Ionescu was one of the main speakers at the memorial services for Kobe and Gigi Bryant, to who Ionescu had grown extremely close and dedicated the rest of her season. She said at the time, “Everything that I’m going to do, I’m going to make sure that he stays close. From here on out, really, everything’s gonna be for him and what he taught me.”
Unfortunately, Ionescu did not get a chance to lead the Ducks on a championship run that season since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the tournament. She left Oregon having changed the women’s basketball program and elevated it to one of the top programs in the nation. She is one of the most well-known Oregon student-athletes of all time.
Earlier that fall, the WNBA draft lottery determined that the top pick in the draft would be made by the New York Liberty, and it was widely assumed that Ionescu would be their choice. On April 17, 2020, the Liberty made the pick official, and she made an immediate impact with 33 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in just her second professional game that July. Unfortunately, her season came to a premature end after just one more game after she suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain and was unable to return until the 2021 season.
She bounced back and played 30 of her team’s 32 games in the 2021 season, averaging 11.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game. She battled continued issues with her ankle but had flashes of brilliance along the way. She became the youngest WNBA player to ever post a triple-double when she had 26 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds on May 18, 2021, against the Minnesota Lynx in just her sixth career game. While NBA triple-doubles have become commonplace, they are still extremely rare in the WNBA, and Ionescu’s was only the tenth in league history.
This season, the Liberty have brought in a new head coach in Sandy Brondello, and Ionescu appears poised to lead the team’s continued turnaround. She spent this past offseason rehabbing her ankle and said for the first time since the injury it is back at full strength. Last season, her teammates Betnijah Laney and Michaela Onyenwere emerged as key pieces for the Liberty as well, and it’ll be exciting to see what the team does as it looks to complete its turnaround from 2-20 in the 2020 bubble to serious title contender. They’re off to a strong start after winning their season opener last week behind 25 points and six assists from Ionescu.
Off the court, Ionescu has been a strong proponent of equal coverage for women’s sports, remarking how even her triple-doubles were overlooked by the National media while Ja Morant’s were heralded at the same time. She has a very strong partnership with Nike, not surprisingly with her Oregon ties, and she collaborated on the release of the Nike Air Zoom GT Cut which was released as the first shoe in Nike’s “Greater Than” franchise. She also wears Kobe Bryant’s shoes and apparel quite often as well in memory of her mentor. Due to her high recognition from her college accolades, Ionescu has also signed a major sponsorship deal with Body Armor, and will continue to draw attention and endorsement deals as her profile in New York continues to grow.
Make sure to check out all the details on these unique NFTs in the DraftKings Marketplace, and take advantage of Ionescu’s continued rise to stardom as the future of the WNBA.