Portland, Ore. (KOIN) – For Sabrina Ionescu, this WNBA season is two years in the making.
“I’ve been two years removed from feeling like this,” Ionescu said. “It’s been a long process and long journey, but it’s finally coming along.”
Coming out of the University of Oregon, Ionescu was surrounded by all the hype and hope due to a No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft. The expectation only piled on when she officially became the top pick for the New York Liberty; she’d be playing in the WNBA’s biggest market, and for one of the league’s original franchises.
The league entered the ‘Wubble’ as the women’s bubble was called in Orlando for their shortened 2020 season. Not even three games in, Ionescu’s rookie season, and all the hype and hope that came with it, was over when she crumpled in the middle of the court with what would turn out to be a season-ending ankle injury.
“It definitely wasn’t your typical ankle sprain,” Ionescu said wryly.
In fact, it was an injury that would not only end her rookie season, but plague her throughout her sophomore season.
“I wasn’t playing at 100%,” said Ionescu. “So that obviously was really hard physically, but also mentally just trying to deal with the pain and not performing to the standards that I know I can and should be performing at.”
Ionescu’s competitive personality and proclivity for being her own harshest critic are well-documented. It’s one of the things that sparked her friendship with the late Kobe Bryant; her own ‘Mamba Mentality.’ So the challenge of being unable to perform to her own standards is something Ionescu had to intentionally work through mentally while she was rehabbing the injury.
“It’s definitely been as important as the physical side of things,” said Ionescu of her mental game. “It’s a progress of understanding, being patient, then actually seeing the results and being like, ‘ok this works, sometimes I don’t have to work 500 hours a day and I should actually take a rest.'”
Ionescu says she’s taken up yoga, and pilates and is reframing the way she views recovery to be more all-inclusive.
“I’m continuing to find other ways to invest in my body and help myself and I think that’s also come from the mental side of understanding it’s sometimes ok to take a break and find other ways to get better if that’s going to help you get back on the court and be yourself.”
Because getting back on the court has always been Ionescu’s priority. As she prepares for her third professional season, Ionescu details the lesson she learned about herself through her recovery, she may not have learned otherwise.
“It would just be resilience,” said Ionescu of what she’s learned about herself. “And finding a way to overcome every single obstacle challenge that comes your way I think everyone is facing something, everyone’s battling with something but it’s how you get better from it and how you get better in the moment.”
After years of working towards feeling 100% herself again, Ionescu is viewing this season with an appreciation for all the work that’s led to this moment, as she enjoys each moment.
“There’s going to be highs and lows during the season,” Ionescu reflected. “We’re going to win some, we’re going to lose some but I think just being really appreciative and thankful for how far I’ve come and where I still have to go is what I’m really going to hone in on.”