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Keep Sabrina and Ruthy Together

April 17th, 2020 by dk

A couple minutes after 4:00 this afternoon, fans of Sabrina Ionescu will have one final opportunity to cheer her on as the local heroine she has become. We’ll cheer from our living rooms or at our smart phones as the WNBA announces its draft picks on ESPN.

We’ll cheer, and then we’ll say good-bye, with much less (literal) fanfare than she deserves. Collegiate sport superstars collect our cheers for no more than a few years. No matter how deeply we bond, we have to let them grow up and move on. (I should add that many find their way back to us, like Bev Smith and Luke Jackson, to name just two. Lucky us.)

After today, Sabrina Ionescu is almost certainly headed to New York City to play for the WNBA’s New York Liberty. There’s very little suspense about how Liberty coach Walt Hopkins will use his No. 1 pick in the draft. Ionescu, queen of the triple-double, will be taking her talents to the nation’s largest sporting stage.

Here’s hoping she won’t be lonely in New York.

On Wednesday, Hopkins traded away his team’s best rebounder, Tina Charles, to get the ninth pick as well. Draft prognosticators say Ionescu’s teammate and roommate Ruthy Hebard should still be available. If that’s the plan and it works, Ionescu and Hebard could be playing together professionally.

It’s a shrewd move for Liberty and its owner, Taiwanese-Canadian billionaire Joe Tsai, but there’s one more move he could still make to ensure his teams’ success. (Tsai also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the arena, Barclays Center, where both teams play.) He should give Ionescu a key to the arena, so she can practice whenever she wants.

If Tsai can keep Ionescu and Hebard together, each becomes more valuable. Ionescu wouldn’t have averaged over nine assists per game if Hebard didn’t score more reliably than any other player in college basketball. These two are a pick-and-roll package — the perfect pass and the easy shot belong together.

They’ve proven they can execute their moves against the best of the best. They accounted for half the Ducks’ points in a memorable exhibition victory over the U.S. national team. A team of WNBA all-stars couldn’t contain them. They’ve competed as the core of Team USA at international 3×3 tournaments, a half-court, street-ball style game. Their teamwork can beat anyone.

Tsai should structure Ionescu’s contract to include an unconventional buy-out clause. He should retain his right as the owner of the Brooklyn Nets to sign Ionescu to play for his NBA team instead of (or in addition to) his WNBA team. Even as a scout team player, Ionescu would push her male teammates to match her drive and commitment.

Does Ionescu deserve some credit for pushing Ducks starting guard Payton Pritchard to match her practice intensity inside an otherwise dark Matthew Knight Arena? Did she help him earn the Bob Cousy Award for best point guard in the country? I don’t know, but I do know she had a key to the arena.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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