Walnut Creek hoops Star Ionescu is #1 WNBA draft pick

By Clay Kallum

Maybe the journey started at Larkey Park in Walnut Creek. Or maybe it began at Wagner Ranch gym in Orinda.
Or maybe the beginning reaches back to Romania, the home of her immigrant parents.
But however, it started, Sabrina Ionescu’s journey now will take her to the bright lights of New York City, as she was the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft by the New York Liberty.
Back in the day she and her twin brother Eddy would spend their time at Larkey Park, where Sabrina would have to force her way onto the court because the guys didn’t want her to play.
“I would wear my Tweety Bird t-shirt,” she recalls, which didn’t exactly scream “I’m a baller” – but it did make it easier for her and Eddy to squeeze some ice cream money out of those who were sure they could beat some kid and his sister.
That was far from the only time that Sabrina Ionescu surprised people. Unlike many future national Players of the Year – she was honored both in high school for Miramonte and in college at Oregon – Ionescu was not a dominant player from day one. When she first tried out for the Cal Stars’ club team, she was just another slender little fourth grader. She didn’t dazzle at the tryouts at Wagner Ranch, but she made the team.
“I was definitely not the best player,” she says, but Ionescu had the drive and determination to constantly work on her game, the same drive and determination that propelled her parents to come to America as adults.

Sabrina Ionescu with her Miramonte coach Kelly Sopak. Photo by Beverly Sopak.

As she got taller and stronger –she’s now 5’ 11” – she began to be noticed. She starred at Miramonte High School (she was national Player of the Year in 2016), and then did the same at Oregon, where she set numerous NCAA records, for men and women, most impressively scoring 2,000 points, collecting 1,000 rebounds and handing out 1,000 assists in her career, a trifecta that no other player has approached.

The Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon on January 16, 2020 (Eric Evans Photography)
Photo credit: GoDucks.com.

What’s next? “I’m just looking forward to getting to work with the Liberty,” she says, though no one knows when or if there will be a WNBA 2020 season. And she was also expected to play in this year’s Olympics and is hopeful she will get the opportunity in 2021.
Regardless of where Ionescu’s journey takes her from here, she’s come a long way from wearing that Tweety Bird t-shirt and hustling unwary hoopers at Larkey Park.