Sabrina Ionescu gives update after ankle injury: 'Kind of a blessing in disguise'

Cassandra Negley

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA draft, had one instinct when she suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain in her third professional game.

“How can I get this wrapped up to continue to play and win the game? Because we would have won the game,” Ionescu told media in a video call on Wednesday.

Ionescu spoke with a group of reporters for the first time since the injury took her out of the league’s bubble environment at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. She stepped on an opponent’s foot near midcourt in the second quarter of a one-bucket game. The Atlanta Dream went on to win, 84-78, while the Liberty rode out the remainder of a 0-20 season.

The only 2K-1K-1K player in NCAA Division I history said she’s healthy, getting back into a routine and is considering playing overseas to gear up for the 2021 season.

Ionescu: Rehab on track, back in routine

Ionescu, 22, said she’s doing better physically than when she was injured in late July. She’s still not doing any contact basketball, but that’s due to COVID-19 since “I’m not trying to find random people at the gym to go play against,” she said.

Her routine includes basketball workouts, yoga, pilates, cardio and lifting. And yes, she was still incredibly competitive with other attendees Wednesday at her first 7 a.m. yoga class, she said.

The time off may have been a “blessing in disguise” after a year that wiped out her national title dreams at Oregon, an in-person draft in New York City, a regular WNBA schedule and then all of her rookie year.

“I think this time that I’ve had — being at home, seeing my family more than I ever have and now just starting this foundation of what I want to do with my career, so just starting with nutrition, starting to get my body right in all aspects — it’s really given me a time to reflect,” she said. “I am really blessed to have played almost three games in the league to see what it was like and know how I need to train, how I need to prepare to be able to play to that level. And so now I can really do that and focus on that in this offseason, which I’m really excited about.

“It’s kind of been a blessing in disguise because I’ve been able to focus on things I’ve never been able to focus on before.”

That’s an enticing thought for WNBA fans. Breanna Stewart, 26, has said she was able to focus on other aspects of her game while rehabbing an Achilles tear last year. She came back to immediately win a second WNBA title and Finals MVP award with the Seattle Storm.

Ionescu said she’s considering playing overseas come January or February for the second half of those league seasons. If she did, she said it would be about getting back on the court rather than about the money. There’s no guarantee the 2021 WNBA season will begin on time, so she noted it could be a full year off if she didn’t go overseas.

Ionescu’s support system includes NBA stars

Sabrina Ionescu with the ball on the court.
New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu is on track with her ankle rehab, she said. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The WNBA rookie left the bubble to see specialists in New York City. She returned home to California and has spent time with her family and the Bryant family. Ionescu was close with the late Kobe Bryant and helped coach his daughter, Gianna. She had on a sweatshirt with “8 | 24” in a yellow heart in honor of them during her video call.

Being near her family and NBA players she’s close with has been helpful before and after the injury, she said. She counts Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Pau Gasol as some of her close confidants who check in on her.

“I think there’s just so many of people that I’m close to and try to lean on for inspiration,” she said. “Obviously they’ve gone through this and they know what it’s like, so obviously having those words of encouragement, having that support system virtually is not really ideal, but I think it’s better than nothing. I’m just so happy to be able to talk to them while I was gone but obviously now to continue that relationship in my rehab.”

She detached from not being in the WNBA bubble by watching the NBA on certain nights, she said, and had her eyes on the busy sports calendar while away.

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