Confetti fell as the Oregon women’s basketball team cut down the nets, grinning ear to ear after earning the program’s first ever trip to the Final Four. The Ducks (33-4) beat Mississippi State in the Portland Regional to book their tickets to Tampa Bay, Florida.
That’s when it started.
“One more year!” chants echoed through Moda Center from loud and proud Ducks fans.
It’s no secret that quickly after Oregon’s run for a National Championship, junior Sabrina Ionescu has a professional decision to make. You may have already read the Duck star guard told reporters still has “no idea” whether or not she’ll enter WNBA Draft, which occurs in six days.
“I don’t really like to talk to her too much about it to be honest because there are so many people that constantly ask her that question,” twin brother Eddy Ionescu said. “Whatever she does, I know our family and the community will be in her corner 100 percent of the way."
As her twin, roommate and best friend, Eddy’s insight gives a unique perspective on Sabrina’s future as the deadline to declare for the WNBA Draft creeps in. The two-time Pac-12 Conference player of the year has 48 hours after the National Championship game to make her intentions known.
Did Eddy always think his sister would be the probable top overall pick in the WNBA Draft? No. The twins are first-generation Romanian, their parents didn’t play sports and competition was slim growing up in Walnut Creek, California. Their love for basketball bloomed on a playground out of an attempt from their father to wear out the energetic twins after a long day of work. Eddy and Sabrina averaged 30-40 points per game in middle school. If your last name wasn’t Ionescu, you weren’t scoring.
Watching Sabrina’s game transition to high school, Eddy began to realize her potential.
“I just kept setting that bar higher and higher for her and she kept shooting it out of the water,” Eddy said.
Eddy played basketball for two seasons at City College of San Francisco before transferring to University of Oregon, where the 6-foot-5 guard hopes to walk on to the UO men’s team. Every morning right out of bed, the twins shoot together in the gym before any team workouts or class. Two things have shocked Eddy about Eugene, Oregon; he thought it would rain more and his sensational sister.
“Now that I get to see, hear and watch her do her thing; it’s absolutely breathtaking,” Eddy said. “It’s sometimes surreal, I don’t believe that the things that she does is possible."
As one of college basketball’s most dynamic all-around stars, Ionescu is basically chasing her own records at this point. Her staggering numbers have led to back-to-back First-Team All-American honors and 18 career triple-doubles, the most in men’s and women’s college basketball history. Even more wild? She has a year of eligibility remaining.
What more could the National Player of the Year candidate accomplish in her senior year at Oregon? Her goal when she signed with Oregon as ESPN’s No. 4 ranked recruit was to change the program. The 5-foot-11 guard dreamed the Ducks would sell out Matthew Knight Arena and battle with the NCAA’s best on a national stage. She’s checked both those boxes; The women’s team owned the first sell out of the season for the Civil War in February and is taking on No. 1 overall seed Baylor in the Final Four on Friday.
“I think she’s left her mark,” Eddy said. “Now her only goal is to win an NCAA championship for her team and the university."
Considering the incredible competitor smashes every goal she’s set, I wouldn’t bet against Sabrina. But regardless of this weekend’s outcome, with or without a national title on her resume, she has to decide if her legacy at Oregon has come to a close.
“There are obvious benefits to both,” Eddy said. “She can stay at school with her friends and have the full college experience. Then as a hooper, your dream is always to play professionally, so once you make it to the point where you get to make that decision to stay or go, it’s a big deal."
Play for free until someone is willing to pay you… Right?
Maybe that’s true for men, but last year’s top women’s rookie salary was $52,564, and on average, WNBA players make $71,635. That’s Sabrina’s money to take and it’s certainly better than nothing, but the amount seems much less than what she’s worth.
However, if she continues to build her personal brand, there may be more cash in endorsement deals (cough, Nike, cough), while still getting to play the game she loves, battling to be the best in the nation with her friends and earn her master's degree (which Coach Graves said she’s been accepted into) at Oregon.
Ionescu, who is currently signed up for UO spring classes, could seek a loss of value and/or catastrophic injury insurance policy, which would relatively keep her safe if her value fell in the draft.
Nationally, she’s become a sensation or as Steph Curry calls her, the “walking triple-double." She’s beginning to use her platform as an outlet to voice her desire for equal sports opportunities, calling attention to the lack of women’s coverage. It feels like her buzz is just beginning, with a major opportunity to grow.
Will her brand flourish more in the WNBA or as a top NCAA competitor at “Nike University?"
If your ultimate dream is to be a pro, why risk a potential injury?
If you’ve accomplished all your goals, is it time to move on or set the bar higher?
You and I might think we know the answers to these questions. But it’s Sabrina’s decision, not ours and not Eddy’s, who booked his return flight from Florida for Monday in confidence in the Ducks.
“The only advice that I gave her was to take her time making the decision. She needs to look at both options,” Eddy said. “At the end of the day I just want her to make her own decision with what makes her happy."
Stay tuned as Eddy plans to take fans along in his journey to Tampa Bay, Florida through videos and photos on NBC Sports Northwest’s Instagram and Twitter.