Sabrina Ionescu didn’t get the season she expected.
By all accounts, Ionescu’s 33-point, seven-assist, seven-rebound game against the Wings, her second in the WNBA, was supposed to be the start of something big.
She was supposed to win Rookie of the Year. She was supposed to earn All-Rookie honors. She was supposed to help jumpstart a new era in Liberty basketball.
But on July 31, her season was cut short by an ankle injury.
“You know, it actually didn’t really hurt,” Ionescu said, remembering when she suffered what was initially diagnosed as a Grade 3 ankle sprain in the second quarter of a game against the Atlanta Dream. "My face was completely, like, straight… I didn’t want to show the other team that I was hurt because I wanted to go back in.
“So my first thought was, ‘how can I get this wrapped up to continue to play and finish the game?’ because we would have won that game.”
Of course that was her first thought. Ionescu is a fierce competitor, molded by the great Kobe Bryant himself. Bryant didn’t walk away when he dislocated his finger midgame, he had the trainer pop it back in and then he jogged back to the court for more.
But this wasn’t just any regular, mild ankle sprain. So a wrap and some ice wasn’t going to cut it.
“After, I think, you know, I realized that I couldn’t come back in and play,” Ionescu continued. "Sitting in a hospital, you’re wondering ‘how bad is it?’ ‘How long is it [going to take to heal]?’, and then kind of just trying to stay calm through it all.”
After Ionescu was shipped back to New York for a second opinion, a wave of relief washed over her. She wouldn’t need surgery, but the year would still be lost to her as she worked to heal, recover and strengthen her ankle.
So how did one of the game’s top competitors manage to stay away?
She wasn’t physically in the Florida wubble anymore, but it didn’t stop her from trying to contribute, even from her home in California.
“There was a few times that I would actually text [coach Walt Hopkins] at halftime,” Ionescu revealed. “Actually, that Chicago game that you know we had won, I was telling him some things that I saw and then we ended up winning, so I told him that I took that win from back home.”
Ionescu is a competitor through and through. About everything. She’s even gotten competitive in her group yoga classes (yes, she silently judges everyone else’s form). It’s hard to really take her out of the game entirely.
But there were times during the season she couldn’t bring herself to watch.
“I watched my team’s games and was trying to help in whatever way I could but it was really hard to try and watch the other games that were going on,” Ionescu said, “because I wanted to be there and competing against those players and competing against those teams and wasn’t able to.”
So instead of watching WNBA games, she watched what was going on in the NBA bubble.
The what ifs still come into her head sometimes, but in the two months since her injury, surrounded by her support system (her family, friends and mentors) back home, she’s had time to reflect and grow.
“I don’t think I ever expected to miss so many [games],” Ionescu said of what lesson she tried to take from her lost season. “I’ve never missed that many games in my life… I really just think being present in the moment, being thankful for what you have because it can be taken away from you at any moment.”
Ionescu has since healed from her injury and has been doing basketball workouts again (minus contact due to the ongoing pandemic). Since she did get some experience playing in the W, she knows a little more about what it takes to compete and play at the highest level. So, she’s made some adjustments to her diet, picked up other activities (like yoga) and has been trying to prepare for whenever the next season starts.
©2020 New York Daily News
Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.