In less than one week, Sabrina Ionescu will make one of the hardest and most important decisions of her life. The Oregon women's basketball star will either declare for the WNBA Draft or return to Oregon for her senior season.
What lies between her and her dreams of playing professional basketball is the NCAA Final Four, where the Ducks are currently posted up and preparing for that Friday late afternoon showdown against the No. 1 overall seeded Baylor Bears. Winner goes to the national championship.
In all that preparation, film studying, analyzing the Bears, media attention, Final Four atmosphere, Sabrina still has that decision to make of what jersey she wants to wear next season. She is the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft, but she also may or may not have some unfinished business to attend to with one more season at Oregon.
The 2019 WNBA Draft is on April 10.
Let’s weigh the options…
Perks of going pro:
First and foremost, it’s a dream come true. Since Sabrina was a little girl, it has been the same hair style, slick back straight ponytail, and the same dream of playing professionally. And with the mock drafts showing her as the No. 1 draft pick after just her junior year, how could you pass that up?
Secondly, when you have the opportunity, take it. Especially in women’s basketball. If we are talking about opportunity alone, yeah there really isn’t a lot of it. There is no G-League or developmental league for the WNBA (as there is in the NBA). The WNBA draft is three rounds, 36 picks total (12 players each round selected). There are currently only two draft-eligible juniors on the mock drafts: Sabrina at No. 1 to the Las Vegas Aces and Jackie Young (Notre Dame) at No. 5 to the Dallas Wings. Both turn 22 years old in the same calendar year as the draft which makes them draft-eligible.
Now let’s talk about the money. I don’t want to get into the rather large pay gap between the NBA and WNBA because that is a discussion all on it’s own and one that frankly should happen more often. But let’s focus in on what Sabrina and other draft picks in the WNBA could be making salary-wise.
For reference, last year’s No. 1 draft pick A’Ja Wilson signed a contract with the Las Vegas Aces for $52,564. Seattle Storm veteran guard Sue Bird, who has been in the league for 17 years and has three championships on her resume, has a salary of $350,000.
Kelsey Plum, a University of Washington alum and former teammate of Sabrina’s on the USA national team, was in a similar situation back in 2016. Plum broke the NCAA record for career points and left Washington with 3,527 points. Sabrina is the NCAA triple-double queen with 18 career triple-doubles. Plum ultimately decided to return to Washington for her senior year, then proceeded to break the record for All-Time NCAA scoring, before taking her talents to the WNBA (No. 1 overall pick by the San Antonio Stars).
In an interview with Fansided.com, Plum gave Sabrina advice on making that decision:
“I just told her, ‘Whatever you do, make sure you make a decision before you get into it, just because it can be emotional in the tournament, whether you win or lose. Other than that, just be on the same page with all the people in your corner. And then, do this for you. I know a lot of people have outside influences but if you’re ready and that’s what you want to do, do it.”
When you have your chance, take it.
Perks of returning to Oregon:
This has been published AHEAD of the NCAA women’s Final Four. Making it to this level of postseason play is already quite the accomplishment, especially after two seasons in a row of stopping one game short of this achievement. However, wouldn’t it be so sweet to be able to put National Champion on your resume? If that does not get accomplished this season, that just may be incentive for Sabrina to return to Oregon for one more season.
What’s better than one Ionescu? How about two. Her twin brother Eddy, who is 18 minutes younger than Sabrina and never forgets it, is hoping to walk onto the Oregon men’s basketball team next season. Not just twins, but they are roommates as well. One more season with not just one but now two Ionescu's….
Lastly, the team. Let’s look at the current Oregon women’s basketball team. Once Sabrina stepped foot on the University of Oregon campus, this team has been destined for greatness. Since the 2016-2017 season, Sabrina’s freshman year, Oregon has seen the Elite Eight or better (this year heading to the Final Four). When this season is complete, the Ducks will lose just two seniors: starting point guard Maite Cazorla and forward Oti Gildon (first off the bench). As for the team, who will return and who is coming to Oregon? The Ducks will return four starters: Sabrina along with junior Ruthy Hebard, the reigning power forward of the year; sophomore Satou Sabally, the reigning Pac-12 freshman of the year; and redshirt-sophomore Erin Boley, the sharp-shooter, three-point machine. And then there’s Nyara Sabally, the younger sister of Satou, who was unable to play this season due to injury, but will be an excellent addition to coach Kelly Graves’ system as well as freshman Taylor Chavez who has seen good minutes this season and proven herself a lockdown defender.
Sabrina is used to making big decisions; she does so every time she steps on the court. But this one is different. Will she fulfill her long-time dreams of playing in the WNBA or return to Oregon for her senior season?
We shall soon find out.