If you paid any attention to women’s basketball over the past several years, you might have had this reaction to the announcement by USA Basketball of the 12-player roster for the senior women’s national team that will compete at the Olympic Games:
Wait, no Sabrina Ionescu?
If you’ve paid close attention to the WNBA basketball lately, though, you probably know why. Ionescu’s rookie season in 2020 was ended after three games because a severe ankle injury that led to offseason surgery. And that impacted her ability to participate in several training camps for the senior national team and the 3×3 squad that also will compete in Tokyo.
USA Basketball “for sure” has an appreciation of Ionescu’s talent and promise, Carol Callan, chair of the committee to select the national teams, told Stock Market Pioneer.
MORE: See Team USA’s loaded Olympic basketball roster
“Sabrina has played with us a lot,” Callan said. “I’ve known her since she was 14. I tell this story … our U-16 program, we invite 35 athletes to the trials and we have an open application to get about 150 kids there, because we readily admit the women’s game is not developed enough that everybody knows who the top 30 are. Sabrina’s first year, she was an applicant. She wasn’t invited.
“Sabrina came to the trials and made herself obvious that she needed to be selected to the team.”
Ionescu won a gold medal with that U-16 team at the FIBA Americas championship, then played the following summer for the USA Basketball squad that won the 2014 FIBA U17 World Cup.
She was invited to become a part of the 3×3 program while at Oregon because FIBA originally told countries the qualifying tournament for the Olympics would be held in the summer of 2019, when the WNBA season was being contested and the pros would not be available. That meant USA Basketball getting college players involved. Ionescu became a gold medalist in 3×3 at the 2019 Pan-American Games.
MORE: Timeline of Sabrina Ionescu’s friendship with Kobe Bryant
The 3X3 Olympic qualifying tournament subsequently was rescheduled for March 2020, then postpooned because of the pandemic to May 2021. The U.S. qualified easily with a 6-0 record, led by Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces and Allisha Gray of the Dallas Wings.
A 5-11 point guard from Walnut Creek, Calif., Ionescu played four seasons at Oregon and became the NCAA career leader in triple doubles and the only player to finish with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists. Her senior season at Oregon in 2019-20 was a sensation unlike we’ve seen in the women’s. She became a unanimous national player of the year, but her chance to lead the Ducks to a Final Four was ruined by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She became the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft, with the New York Liberty the team lucky enough to secure her rights. But she still is recovering her pre-injury form. Ionescu is averaging 12.1 points and 6.3 assists and shooting 33 percent from the field in 11 games this season. In her only three games last season, the numbers were 18.3, 4.0 and 45.2 percent.
Because players in the women’s national team pool often are on different schedules, including competing overseas or doing coaching work during the WNBA offseason, USA Basketball conducts several training camps in that period to help get players together as often as possible, even if not all are available at any one time. Those camps have helped lead to six consecutive gold medals. Ionescu wasn’t able to participate because of her injury.
“It is important to be healthy to come to some of that,” Callan said. “It’s absolutely no problem, other than that simple fact. And I would anticipate that Sabrina would be a part of our national team moving forward. For a long time.”