Sabrina Ionescu, the "Triple Double Queen," put Oregon Ducks women's basketball on the map, and made some famous friends/mentors along the way.
During Ionescu's rise at Oregon, she caught the attention of Warriors star Steph Curry and late Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant.
"She's an unbelievable talent on that team," Curry said of Ionescu at a press conference last year. "She's a legend in her own right, that's for sure."
Ionescu grew up in Walnut Creek, watching Curry take the Warriors from NBA laughing stock to Goliath with his silky shooting stroke and unmatched swagger.
"I love having a relationship with [Curry], just being able to remember when I was little, watching him and kind of emulating my game after him, to now being able to call him or text him any time that I need help with something," Ionescu told ESPN's Maria Taylor.
The past few months have been hard on Ionescu. She lost her mentor and friend when Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
Ionescu gave an emotional speech at their memorial at Staples Center, eulogizing an NBA legend gone too soon and his daughter who was destined to be the next great thing in women's basketball.
“ 'You have too much to give to stay silent.’ That’s what he said," Ionescu said at the memorial. "That’s what he believed. That’s what he lived. Through Gigi, through me, through his investment in women’s basketball. That was his next great act, a girl dad.
“Basketball in many ways was just a metaphor. I still text him even though he’s not here. ‘Thank you for everything. The rest is for you. Rest easy my guy.’ The last one I sent him said, ‘I miss you, may you rest in peace, my dear friend.’ "
That night, Ionescu flew back to the Bay Area where the Ducks were slated to play No. 7 ranked Stanford. With Curry in attendance, Ionescu made history, becoming the first Division I player to record 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds.
"It's pretty amazing to see her set new levels of expectation for what greatness is, not just for women's basketball but for basketball in general," Curry told ESPN while watching Ionescu make history.
"She's blazing a trail nobody has set foot on."
That trail was supposed to end with the Ducks cutting down the nets as national champions. Oregon rolled Stanford in the Pac-12 title game and looked poised to run through the NCAA Tournament to check off the final and most important box on their Unfinished Business tour.
But Ionescu and the Ducks never got that chance.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the NCAA made the prudent decision to cancel both the men's and women's basketball tournament, ending Ionescu's collegiate career without her getting the proper sendoff.
Ionescu and the Ducks didn't get their storybook ending, and now the superstar point guard is set to take her talents to the next level -- she's expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty -- knowing she left the Ducks and the women's college game in a better place.
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This year has been the toughest year of my life, and I wasn’t expecting to have to end my senior year like this. Very saddened but whole heartedly understand. To my teammates, coaches, fans, and the University of Oregon, thank you for providing me with the best 4 years of my life. Although our unfinished business will remain just that, I have been blessed to be a part of this journey. Thank you for all the memories, that I will forever hold close to my heart. DUCK NATION, THANK YOU!! 🐥 20, out🙏🏼
She'll still be pinging questions off Curry -- whether it's about her game, promoting women's basketball or something else -- whenever the need arises.
Curry, who took his two daughters to watch Ionescu thrash Cal, knows the importance of his support of the women's game. Ionescu plans to carry Kobe's torch on the floor, and Curry can do the same as an advocate for women's basketball.
Together their growing relationship can do powerful things.
And the game of basketball will be better off for it.