Sabrina Ionescu could have chosen any day to write a letter to the Ducks community.
But Monday, February 24 won’t go down as just any day for the Oregon women’s basketball star. It’s the day a public memorial will be held at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were among nine killed in a tragic helicopter accident last month.
Ionescu is expected to speak at the service before catching a flight north to rejoin her teammates in Palo Alto for a game against No. 4 Stanford.
In a letter with The Players’ Tribune, Ionescu opened up about her decision to remain at Oregon to help build something special, and how without words, Kobe made it clear she had made the right decision.
He saw the pressure that we were about to face this year as a privilege. A challenge to overcome. And the fact that it was scary to me at first?? He saw that as an opportunity. Harnessing your fear as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself — that’s Mamba Mentality 101. And I took it to heart.
Ionescu harnessed that Mamba Mentality this season with her Ducks team, who currently sit No. 3 in the women’s college basketball rankings. They’ve overcome a lot of challenges: shocking team USA, beating UConn and sweeping Oregon State.
But no matter how the season finishes, Ionescu is proud of what she’s helped build at Oregon and the community who has rallied around her since the very beginning.
It’s been a year I’ll remember forever, but it’s also been bittersweet. Because on one hand, I’m sitting here writing you this letter, Ducks Nation, and I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. I’m so proud of how we’ve met our expectations head-on, and contended for another Pac-12 title, and — even with this high-pressure target on our back — stayed right near the top of the polls all season long. I’m so proud of how we’ve put ourselves in the perfect position to reach our second straight Final Four, and beyond.
Ionescu will take the next step of her basketball journey without one of her biggest mentors, but she knows their two paths crossed for a reason.
“Kobe always saw the bigger picture,” Ionsecu wrote. “That was clear with everything he did in his life — but to me it was especially clear with the way that he looked at and treated the game of women’s basketball. He didn’t see growing the game with girls as his hobby, or as some side project, or as a charity case. He saw it as a movement. And he didn’t get involved because he just wanted to be a fan of our movement. He got involved because he wanted to be a part of it.”
While the world mourns the loss of Bryant, Ionescu knows what Kobe and others have instilled in her is so much more than Mamba Mentality for girls, it’s Mamba Mentality, period.
Oregon has a must-win game against No. 4 Stanford on Monday to clinch its third-straight Pac-12 title. If the Ducks come away victorious, Oregon will have the top seed heading into the Pac-12 Tournament.
As Ionescu knows, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Let’s go take that unfinished business and finish it.”