Becker: Ionescu deserves more recognition for all-around dominance
Courtney Becker | Wednesday, February 20, 2019
The best all-around college basketball player this season doesn’t get nearly enough recognition for it.
For those who don’t know who Sabrina Ionescu is, pay more attention. Ionescu is the star point guard for Oregon’s women’s basketball team, and she has more triple-doubles than any player — male or female — in NCAA history. She broke the previous record of 12, set by Kyle Collinsworth at BYU, in December. She now has 16.
And yet, there is a very real probability that most people who call themselves basketball fans would not be able to name or place Ionescu.
Just about anyone who takes an interest in college basketball could probably tell you who Zion Williamson is. Duke’s freshman phenom is already favored to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, and his eye-catching dunks are certainly entertaining to watch. He is a great player and deserves every ounce of recognition he receives.
But so is Ionescu. And she deserves way more recognition than she currently receives.
Let’s go back to her triple-doubles for a moment. Ionescu broke the NCAA women’s record for triple-doubles — then seven — her sophomore year, and she already has four more than the male player with the next-most. Oh, and she’s only a junior. It’s very possible that Ionescu will decide to enter the WNBA Draft this year — with the measly salaries WNBA players earn, getting an early start and picking up some sponsorship deals might be the option that makes the most financial sense for her — but if she doesn’t, count on that record to grow significantly.
Ionescu is excellent in every aspect of her game — she is a natural scorer, has tremendous court vision and she is smart enough to be able to perfectly predict the angle at which a shot will bounce off the rim or backboard to grab the rebound. It’s this aspect of her game which just might be the coolest (and which she recently told The Washington Post was born out of necessity because the boys she played with growing up would refuse to pass her the ball).
Ionescu is listed at 5-foot-10 on the Oregon roster, making her several inches shorter than most players under the basket during a game, but she somehow is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game to go along with averages of 19.7 points and 8.2 assists. This is pure basketball talent combined with an extremely high basketball IQ. It’s fun to watch.
She seems to be everywhere on the court at once, particularly when Oregon has possession, contributing in some way to just about every play the Ducks run. Her talent and drive have helped to turn Oregon into a scary threat in women’s college basketball this season, bringing the Ducks to a projected No. 1 seeding in the tournament come March. Most of that credit is certainly due to Oregon head coach Kelly Graves, but it’s hard to imagine he could’ve brought the program to where it is now without Ionescu at the helm.
Of course, like every basketball player ever, Ionescu isn’t invincible. She has off nights (though for her, those are usually 15-point and 7-assist nights instead of 25-point and 12-assist ones), and an uncharacteristic travel in the final seconds of Oregon’s matchup against Oregon State on Monday night proved to be costly in her team’s second loss of the season. But Ionescu is easily still the player the Ducks want with the ball in her hands when it comes down to it, and she is probably the most well-rounded player in college basketball this year.
And sure, Ionescu is getting credit from some fans, but what do people like Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry and No. 1 bestselling author and basketball writer Shea Serrano really know compared to those guys who dominate their 25-and-up rec leagues?
The lack of respect for Sabrina Ionescu is yet another symptom and example of the larger problem with treatment of women’s basketball. Because if people still don’t want to watch one of the most exciting players in college basketball — right up there with Zion Williamson — go crazy every game, then their problem isn’t really with the sport.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.