It was a decision made months ago, maybe even an entire year ago, no matter what team won the lottery.
The New York Liberty made that official Friday night, taking Oregon sensation Sabrina Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft.
Ionescu, a Bay Area native, said she’s only been to the city twice.
“I’m really excited to get to Brooklyn and enjoy the city and start playing,” she said.
Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins praised Ionescu’s leadership in a pre-draft conference call on Monday and how she’s kept her poise during a tough year that included the death of her close friend and mentor Kobe Bryant, speaking at the celebration of life for him and his daughter before a Pac-12 rivalry game, and the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, where she could have closed her career with an elusive championship.
“All of these things speak to a person who really is pretty special and I think you have to look no further than the way she’s handled herself in times of crisis to know what type of a leader she is and what type of leader she could be as a professional,” Hopkins said.
WNBA draft picks (updating live)
New York Liberty — Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Dallas Wings — Satou Sabally, Oregon
Indiana Fever — Lauren Cox, Baylor
Atlanta Dream — Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M
Dallas Wings (from Phoenix) — Bella Alarie, Princeton
Minnesota Lynx — Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, South Carolina
Dallas Wings (from Seattle, via Conn., Phx) — Tyasha Harris, South Carolina
Chicago Sky — Ruthy Hebard, Oregon
New York Liberty (from Dallas, via Las Vegas) — Megan Walker, UConn
Phoenix Mercury (from LA, via Conn.) — Jocelyn Willoughby, Virginia
Seattle Storm (from Conn.) — Kitija Laksa, TTT Riga (Latvia)
New York Liberty (from Washington) — Jazmine Jones, Louisville
New York Liberty (from Atlanta) — Kylee Shook, Louisville
Indiana Fever (from NY, via Minn.) — Kathleen Doyle, Iowa
New York Liberty (from Dallas) — Leaonna Odom, Duke
Minnesota Lynx (from Indiana) — Crystal Dangerfield, UConn
Atlanta Dream (from Phoenix) — Brittany Brewer, Texas Tech
Phoenix Mercury (from Minn.) — Te’a Cooper, Baylor
Seattle Storm — Joyner Holmes, Texas
Los Angeles Sparks (from Chicago) — Beatrice Mompremier, Miami
Dallas Wings (from Vegas) — Luisa Geiselsolder, Germany
Los Angeles Sparks — Leonie Fiebich, Germany
Connecticut Sun — Kaila Charles, Maryland
Washington Mystics — Jaylyn Agnew, Creighton
Atlanta Dream — Mikayla Pivec, Oregon State
New York Liberty TRADED to Minnesota Lynx — Erica Ogwumike, Rice
Atlanta Dream (from Dallas) — Kobi Thornton, Clemson
Indiana Fever — Kamiah Smalls, James Madison
Phoenix Mercury — Stella Johnson, Rider
Chicago Sky (from Minn.) — Japreece Dean, UCLA
Seattle Storm — Haley Gorecki, Duke
Chicago Sky — Kiah Gillespie, Florida State
Las Vegas Aces — Lauren Manis, Holy Cross
Los Angeles Sparks — Tynice Martin, West Virginia
Connecticut Sun — Juicy Landrum, Baylor
Washington Mystics — Sug Sutton, Texas
Ionescu will be the star of a young team that is using the 2020 draft to build around her. Her position in New York City is the perfect landing spot for her marketability and for her to use a master’s degree in the subject.
The draft is being held virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing measures. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert is hosting from her home, using household items such as a dryer rack to hold the 12 jerseys, and having her kids assist her. Players are joining in remotely and ESPN is using a split screen during the announcements to get player reactions.
Engelbert said she realized the league made the right decision in going ahead with the draft when she called players, who were unable to compete in their final tournament, and they were excited to have their next dream realized.
“It really made me feel like we did the right thing here and we need to give these bright spots to the American public,” Engelbert said on a conference call Friday. “Certainly live sports is very much missed, we all know that. If we can do our part to get the conversation going again, we’re excited to do that and be the first ones out there to do a virtual draft.”
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