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Wednesday June 3rd, 2020 8:36AM

Oregon's Ionescu looks forward to pro career in the WNBA

By The Associated Press
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — With the spotlight on her growing ever brighter, Sabrina Ionescu is aware she's becoming her own brand.

One of the most decorated players in women's college basketball, Ionescu is about to go pro with the WNBA draft coming up Friday. She's widely expected to be selected No. 1 by the New York Liberty.

She's also being courted by shoe companies for what could be an unprecedented endorsement deal. On top of it all, she's finishing her master's degree, fittingly in advertising and brand responsibility.

Ionescu said Oregon has prepared her to understand how much impact she can have in the community and on women's basketball.

“It’s going to be a learning process of just going into a bigger market with so many things going on. And I think I’m just going to have to find my niche and find what’s important to me and what’s going to help me — and our team — and kind of use that to the best of my ability,” she said on a video call with reporters Tuesday.

Ionescu, who won AP All-American honors three times, shattered the NCAA career triple-double mark (for both men and women) with 26 and became the first player in college history to have 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

She helped the Ducks win the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles as a senior this season while averaging 17.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds. She was named the conference’s most outstanding player of the tournament and of the regular season.

The 5-foot-11 guard was also named AP Player of the Year and won the Wooden Award, the Naismith Trophy and Wade Trophy.

So it's no wonder shoe companies have flocked to her. Nike, which has obvious ties to Oregon through company co-founder and alum Phil Knight, is in the running, as are Puma and Under Armour. Ionescu has been training in the San Francisco Bay Area with Golden State's Steph Curry, Under Armour's most prominent athlete. At a safe distance, of course.

“I would probably be in meetings with a lot of them, being able to meet a lot of the team and see how everything’s done. But obviously everything’s been done online, which has been a little bit different, and I'm still getting used to it," she said. "But I haven’t made a decision yet on a shoe company. I’m assuming it will probably happen before the draft. But knowing me, who knows?”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will announce the draft picks on ESPN while Ionescu will be at home in Walnut Creek, California.

She'll miss the usual pomp and circumstance that comes with being selected first, but Ionescu understands there are bigger concerns because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ionescu said she would be excited by the opportunity to suit up for the Liberty, who will play in the Barclays Center whenever the WNBA season begins.

“And then just the marketability that there is in New York, and kind of the hustle and bustle, is something that I think could be not only beneficial to myself as a person, but as a brand, and for women’s basketball," she said.

ESPN Analyst Rebecca Lobo spoke about Ionescu in a conference call Monday to preview the draft.

“She’s got everything you’d want in the skill set but the No. 1 thing people talk about is her competitiveness and her competitive fire. Whether it’s a player like Diana Taurasi or Sue Bird, that’s the thing that can separate the great ones and she has proven that she has that and thrives in those moments and loves it and loves basketball," Lobo said.

Oregon teammates Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard could also be top 10 picks.

The Ducks finished 31-2 this season, which ended prematurely with the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament because of the pandemic. They were ranked No. 2 in the final AP Top 25.

Although Ionescu returned for her senior year in hopes of winning a national title, she said she has no regrets.

“I would say it was probably one of the best decisions of my life to come back, although there was many ups and downs through the year,” she said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else besides there.”

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