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McGinley: Reflecting on Sabrina Ionescu’s greatness

| Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Here at Notre Dame we focus on the Fighting Irish, but there’s one Fighting Duck at Oregon who’s breaking records and changing the history of basketball — not only the collegiate women’s game, but all of basketball history — including men’s collegiate basketball, the NBA and the WNBA.

That Duck is Sabrina Ionescu, a 5’ 11” guard from Walnut Creek, California whose middle school told her she “should be playing with dolls” instead of playing basketball. Despite that, she is now the All-American guard for Oregon. 

Ionescu averages 17.3 points, 7.5 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game, and she earned another triple-double this past Friday against No. 12 Arizona (15 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists). But triple-double — earning double-digit values in three statistical categories — meant more than the rest. 

It was the third time she earned a triple-double against Arizona, making her the first person ever to earn three triple-doubles against the same opponent. In Division I of the NCAA, there have been six seasons where a player has had six triple-doubles, including both men’s and women’s basketball, and Ionescu holds three of those seasons. 

On top of this, she has topped Luka Doncic and Oscar Robertson, who both held the highest triple-double percentage in the NBA, WNBA, and NCAA D-I with 17.4%. Ionescu now has a triple-double in 18.2% of her games throughout her college career. This latest triple-double marks her 24th, double the amount any other player in NCAA history has had. 

Nevertheless, Friday night’s triple-double was not just about the records for Ionescu. She had a bigger honor on her mind. 

Ionescu, like so many of this generation’s basketball players and this generation as a whole, looked up to Kobe Bryant. He was her mentor and she, like so many, was heartbroken to lose him. After her 24th triple-double, the triple-double that not only broke all those records but also matched Bryant’s number, Ionescu sat for the post game press-conference, and when asked about Bryant in relation to that night’s achievement, she talked a bit about their relationship.

“Definitely a little bit more emotional for this one,” Ionescu said. “I’d probably be receiving a text at this time, with him, you know, telling me something, congratulating me and obviously keeping up with it. But he’s sending me a text in a different way, you know, I can definitely hear him congratulating me and our team.”

She went on about her hopes to continue to honor him. 

“I hope I can just stay at 24 for the rest of the year but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” she said.  

This accomplishment came after Ionescu dedicated this season to her mentor on January 26th, the day the tragic crash took Bryant’s life, his daughter Gianna’s and 7 other passengers. Ionescu did so during an on-court post-game interview after their the Ducks’ 66-57 win over Oregon State.  

“Everything I do, I do it for him, I mean, [he was] a really close friend obviously and this season’s for him,” she said.

She continues to make that true with every milestone she passes, much like the many Bryant passed himself in his many seasons in the NBA. So, despite her wish to stay at 24 triple-doubles, there is no doubt Sabrina Ionescu will find another way to honor the idol, mentor and friend with whom she had grown so close.

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