Lew Alcindor, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain. All of these names have been unanimously considered the best to ever step on the court in the history of collegiate basketball. Yet, there’s a young woman in Eugene, Ore. that has cemented herself as one of the most dominant players in NCAA history, Sabrina Ionescu.
Ionescu became the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists on Monday in a matchup against the Stanford Cardinal. The Oregon guard doesn’t lead any individual category alone, in fact, she isn’t even one of the top 25 scorers in women’s college basketball history but with Ionescu, it isn’t about just scoring, rebounding or passing, it’s the combination of all of those assets that sets her apart.
Before Ionescu, the NCAA leader in triple doubles was Kyle Collinsworth, who recorded 12 in his time with Brigham Young University. On Monday, Ionescu recorded her 26th. I had to Google Collinsworth because I had literally never heard his name outside of conversations about Ionescu and that’s indicative of the legacy that he’ll leave. Collinsworth carved a nice little signature in college basketball history as one of it’s triple double leaders but after he left Brigham Young, he was just another guy on an NBA roster and only played one season with the Dallas Mavericks before being shipped off to the G-League. Ionescu is different. We’ve never seen a college basketball player like her before. Her swiss army knife of skills sets her apart from anyone else that steps on the floor with her.
Ionescu was a prohibitive favorite to be the number one pick in the WNBA draft last year before eventually deciding to come back to Oregon for one final season to chase after a National Championship. Her ascent has come hand in- hand with the rise of collegiate and professional women’s basketball and she deserves a lot of credit for that fact. After a historic performance in the NCAA tournament last year where she became the second player ever to record multiple triple-doubles in the NCAA tournament, Ionescu put ESPN on blast for their coverage of the tournament.
“I mean it’s awesome to get one in the tournament,” Ionescu said. “Probably still won’t get recognized because ESPN never recognizes women’s sports that are getting triple-doubles. But I’m just happy that I was able to do it.”
On Jan. 22, ESPN announced that it would air all women’s basketball NCAA tournament first and second round games rather than showing them on a regional basis. Ionescu has become a leader in the fight to bring respect to the women’s game while still being the best player on the court every night. This is a battle that is unique to women’s basketball. Nobody in a men’s locker room has to fight every day to prove themselves worthy of public attention, they don’t have to deal with idiotic comments on social media telling them to “get back in the kitchen” and they certainly don’t have to fight for reasonable compensation. The burden on her shoulders is massive and she carries it with a class unlike any other player I’ve seen. Her senior season has possibly been her best yet, but it has also been the hardest.
Before her historic game on Monday, Ionescu had other arrangements to attend to. She had to speak at the “Celebration of Life”ceremony that memorialized the lives of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. Ionescu was one of many sports stars to speak at the ceremony, among names like Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Diana Taurasi. At the ceremony, Ionescu told a story of when she met Kobe and Gianna in 2019 and how Kobe became a mentor to the “present” of women’s college basketball. She spoke about moves that Kobe taught her and how she worked together with him and Gigi over the past year. She spoke at the ceremony on Monday morning and arrived at the stadium just under two hours before her game. Even with one of the most emotionally draining days in the history of her career, she showed exactly why Kobe decided to take her under his wing and made history. After the game, she dedicated the game to the Laker legend.
“To do it on 2/24/20 is huge,” she said. “We had talked about it in the preseason. I can’t really put that into words. He’s looking down and really proud of me and just really happy for this moment with my team.”
Ionescu has already made her name as one that cannot be passed up when discussing the history of college basketball, but she still has one thing left to accomplish while still repping the green and yellow: win a National Championship.