Sabrina Ionescu writes new Players’ Tribune piece recollecting season, remembering Kobe Bryant

Photo Credit: AP

It will not be long before Sabrina Ionescu and her Oregon Ducks take one more chance at bringing a national championship to Eugene before moving onto the professional ranks.

Ionescu knew what awaited her and her team when she declared she would be returning to Oregon for her senior season that opponents would be looking to give them everything they have as they were prospective favorites after a Final Four campaign the previous year.

She wrote that her teammates already knew she was returning.

We’re more than teammates here – we’re more like sisters. We’re more like family. And no one knows you like family does.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

Ionescu also knew going back to Oregon was the right call because she felt that if she made the right decision that Kobe would have let her know.

The vibes she got from Bryant was that he let her knew she made the right decision in returning to the Ducks. Why? Because she believed Kobe was hailing her for taking on a new challenge despite it being daunting at first.

Harnessing your fear as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself – that’s Mamba Mentality 101. And I took it too heart.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

She wrote that while winning a title is the ultimate goal that its significance goes beyond becoming national champions. It is, for Oregon, setting the groundwork that future Ducks teams can aspire to and turning Oregon into a women’s basketball juggernaut.

Ionescu thanked her family, Oregon (including coach Kelly Graves), her teammates and Oregon fans.

‘Four in four,’ man….that was the motto here from the start. Some how, some way, we were going to get to the Final Four within four seasons. And I’ll be honest: when I heard Coach Graves say that for the first time? I didn’t really understand the how or the way. I wouldn’t say I was extremely confident in our chances. But the one thing I was confident about, and knew right from the start, was that Coach was someone I could trust.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

The advice she would give to her freshman self? To embrace the idea that she may be something other than normal – and accepting it and being comfortable within her own skin.

And who I am, I’ve realized, is someone who loves basketball with all of her heart. Who obsesses over it, and takes it seriously, and nerds out over it, and who can’t ever get enough of it. In other words, I’ve realized that I’m a woman who wants to make basketball the focus of her professional life. And not just basketball – but achieving greatness in basketball.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

In addition to thanking everyone at Oregon for her time there and how they’ve got her and the team to this point, she also acknowledged how shocked she was when she heard the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s death.

She admitted she began questioning her own journey and how she had lost someone so influential in steering her on the right path on that journey.

It just felt cruel. It still feels that way.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

She did feel that it was meant for her and Bryant’s paths to cross because she believes he made her a better player and a better teammate. In Kobe, Ionescu not only saw someone who could instill his knowledge onto herself as a young up-and-comer, but someone who genuinely wanted to expand the reach of the women’s game.

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.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

All that he cared about really was your love of the game. That was the test you had to pass with Kobe: Could you match him passion for passion when it came to hoops. If you could do that, then you had his respect.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

Ionescu closed her words by once again thanking everyone – alive and gone – for shaping her into the person and player she has become after four seasons with the Ducks – in addition to a rallying call to her team.

Now let’s close this season out right.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

Let’s go take that unfinished business and finish it.

–Sabrina Ionescu (The Players’ Tribune)

Oregon has a chance. Starting out as a No. 1 seed in the tournament will be a building block. Charlie Crème’s latest bracketology has Oregon, South Carolina, Baylor and Maryland as the four No. 1 seeds for March Madness.

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