Sabrina Ionescu eyes playing overseas after missing most of WNBA rookie season

New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who missed most of her rookie season with an ankle injury, said she is considering playing overseas this winter to help prepare for the 2021 WNBA season.

Ionescu spoke on a videoconference call Wednesday, the day after the 2020 WNBA season ended with the Seattle Storm beating the Las Vegas Aces for the championship in Bradenton, Florida. Many WNBA players compete in overseas leagues, where several of the best make more than they do in the U.S.-based league.

But Ionescu, the WNBA's No. 1 draft pick in April following a legendary college career at Oregon, said it wouldn't be a financial decision for her. She is concerned about her time away from competitive basketball, having not played since she was injured July 31. She is doing basketball workouts now, but that doesn't include contact.

"Partially that has to do with COVID, because I'm not trying to find random people at the gym to play against," said Ionescu, who is home in California. "I did yoga this morning at 7, yoga and Pilates. I did some cardio, lifted, going to do a basketball workout and recovery. So I really have a very full day."

Ionescu said that if she goes overseas, it would not be until later in that season, like in January or February, and that Europe is her most likely destination.

"I wouldn't really be going for the money," Ionescu said. "I'd be going for a couple months to kind of just get back into playing basketball, playing against other players. It's really easy to just go through workouts [alone], and it's completely different to play 5-on-5 with refs.

"There's a few [overseas] teams that I was talking to before the WNBA season started. So I'll still be talking to them and see if I can go out there later."

Ionescu suffered a Grade 3 sprain to her left ankle in the second quarter of the Liberty's July 31 game against Atlanta. She was bringing the ball upcourt and severely rolled the ankle when she stepped on the foot of Atlanta's Betnijah Laney. She said that at first, she still hoped she would be able to return to play.

"Then obviously sitting in a hospital, you're wondering, 'How bad is it?'" Ionescu said. "Then kind of just trying to stay calm through it all. Very blessed to not have needed surgery and been able to just take my time and recover."

Ionescu left the WNBA's bubble and saw a foot specialist in New York. Then she went back to her family in California. Ionescu said the injury resulted in some down time that was kind of a blessing in disguise after a very busy and emotional 2019-20 college season, even though she missed being with the Liberty.

Last November things started rolling when the Ducks upset the U.S. national team in an exhibition in Eugene, Oregon. Then Ionescu had a senior season in which she pushed her NCAA-record triple-double total to 26 and became the first player in college basketball, men's or women's, to reach the 2,000-points/1,000 assists/1,000 rebounds milestone. She hit the final rebounding part of that on Feb. 24, after earlier in the day speaking at a Staples Center memorial service for Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna, killed in a January helicopter crash.

Bryant had many friends in the women's game, including Ionescu, whom he helped mentor. During Wednesday's interview, Ionescu wore a jacket with a heart-shaped patch including the numbers 8 and 24, worn by Bryant during his NBA career.

Following a 31-2 record that included the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, Ionescu and the Ducks were eager for another shot at the NCAA championship after falling in the national semifinals in 2019. But, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 NCAA tournament.

"If this year wouldn't have happened to me, I think it would have been more of a devastating kind of season-ending injury," Ionescu said. "But I think I kind of just took it. And just [said], 'What's next? What can I do now to get better?'

"I think this time that I've had, obviously being at home, seeing my family more than I ever have, [has helped]. Just starting this foundation of what I want to do with my career ... with nutrition, starting to get my body right in all aspects. It's really given me time to reflect."

Ionescu did play two-and-a-half games this WNBA season, scoring 33 points in her second game, against Dallas and her former Oregon teammate Satou Sabally. Ionescu said she feels fortunate to at least have that WNBA experience to take into next season.

The Liberty finished last in the league without her, going 2-20. But with seven rookies on the roster including Ionescu, not much had been expected this season for the Liberty anyway.

Ionescu hopes that the experience the rest of the Liberty players got this year, her coming back, plus the return of 2019 No. 2 overall draft pick Asia Durr -- she missed this season after battling COVID-19 -- will produce different results for New York in 2021.

"Hopefully next year, still starting from the ground up, but I think expectations are going to be a lot higher," she said. "Personally, I was able to see what it was like, but also as a team, our core group of young players got that year under their belt."

And asked her thoughts on her Liberty jersey ranking fourth in sales despite her missing most of the season, Ionescu chuckled.

"I thought that was really cool to see," she said. "Got to get that to 1, though. I'm a little bit competitive, even if it's jersey-selling."