Sabrina Ionescu may be remembered for her accolades, like being the NCAA’s triple-double leader, the first pick in the WNBA draft, and a once-in-a-generation style basketball player. However, these capstone moments don’t tell the whole story. Ionescu has been forced to overcome tremendous challenges on and off the court, especially in the last year. Ionescu had to cope with the tragic loss of her mentor, Kobe Bryant, the end of her time at Oregon without a fair chance to play in March Madness, and trained for the WNBA during the COVID-19 pandemic, and just recently, an ankle injury that stopped her strong performances in the Wubble for the New York Liberty.
Many of these obstacles aren’t ones that could’ve been foreseen ahead of one’s basketball career, but Ionescu got candid about what it took to overcome them in the Mental Buckets episode, How to Keep an Eye on the Prize, right before she went down to Florida for the remainder of the WNBA season. Despite the lack of closure Ionescu had regarding her last season at Oregon, and first season in the WNBA, Ionescu has trained herself to stay as calm and collected as possible.
“I had to remove myself from thinking about things that were not in my control,” Ionescu said in her appearances on Mental Buckets.
And that she did. Even while at home without a gym to access during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ionescu shot hoops at her local middle school, and worked with all the equipment she could find at her house. When she came back to the Wubble, she dominated, averaging 18.3 points and four rebounds per game, but again, that only tells half the story.
Even before this rocky calendar year, Ionescu learned how to set her sights on her goal of playing pro basketball, and took as many steps as possible to put that dream within reach. At times, in college, Ionescu had to sacrifice social events and time to be a normal college student to put herself in the best possibility to go pro. These give-and-take situations are not those that all youth basketball players understand should they want to play at the highest level.
“There’s gonna be times when you have to wake up at 4:30, 5 AM to work out,” Ionescu said on Mental Buckets. “It’s not because someone’s making you, it’s because that’s what you need to do.”
Ionescu’s mental strength comes from a commitment to her craft, her teammates, and an unmatched resilience to overcome challenges that may come in her way. With that mentality, she’s unshakable.
There’s one particular exercise Clair Steele will never forget from UPB. And that’s Packie’s famous five-minute plank that would be thrown in at the end of workouts. Clair Steele used to dread those planks.