There was very little drama surrounding which player would be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft. The New York Liberty could have begun printing Sabrina Ionescu jerseys the moment they won the Draft Lottery back in September.
Ionescu swept the national Player of the Year awards in the shortened NCAA season, finished her career as the NCAA all-time leader in triple-doubles and became the first player to ever have at least 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. In addition to the numbers, her passion for the game resonated through the television and made her a household name for any basketball fan.
While the Ionescu pick was a foregone conclusion well before Friday’s virtual draft due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still historic for the University of Oregon women’s basketball program as Ionescu is the first player in its history to be selected at No. 1.
— WNBA (@WNBA) April 17, 2020
Heading into Friday, a total of eight Oregon Ducks had been drafted into the WNBA over the league’s first 23 seasons, with none coming in the first round. Less than an hour into the draft, the Ducks had three players selected in the first eight picks with Satou Sabally going No. 2 to Dallas and Ruthy Hebard going No. 8 to Chicago.
“It’s so cool,” said Sabally in a post-draft teleconference with the media. “It just shows that we have built a great culture at Oregon, have recruited great players, and they got the right kind of practice and development. We really had the best support system around us.”
This is the fifth straight year that one school has produced at least three first round draft picks, but only the third time in league history for all three to go in the top eight. The only other school to accomplish that is the University of Connecticut.
Colleges With Three First Round Picks In Same Draft
- 2020 Oregon: 1. Sabrina Ionescu; 2. Satou Sabally; 8. Ruthy Hebard
- 2019 Notre Dame: 1. Jackie Young; 5. Arike Ogunbowale; 11. Brianna Turner
- 2018 Connecticut: 4. Gabby Williams; 6. Azurá Stevens; 10. Kia Nurse
- 2017 South Carolina: 2. Alaina Coates; 4. Allisha Gray; 10. Kaela Davis
- 2016 Connecticut: 1. Breanna Stewart; 2. Moriah Jefferson; 3. Morgan Tuck
- 2002 Connecticut: 1. Sue Bird; 2. Swin Cash; 4. Asjha Jones; 6. Tamika Williams
In addition to adding Oregon to such a prestigious list of great teams, the Ducks became just the fourth team ever to have players taken with the top two picks in the draft. They are joined by Connecticut teams in 2016 and 2002 as well as USC from the first-ever WNBA Draft back in 1997.
Colleges With Players Selected No. 1 and No. 2 Overall
- 2020 Oregon: 1. Sabrina Ionescu; 2. Satou Sabally
- 2016 Connecticut: 1. Breanna Stewart; 2. Moriah Jefferson
- 2002 Connecticut: 1. Sue Bird; 2 Swin Cash
- 1997 USC: 1. Tina Thompson; 2 Pamela McGee
“Being able to go 1 and 2 with Satou is a really cool feeling and just shows all the hard work that we put in this year to get to this point paid off,” Ionescu said during her post-draft teleconference with the media, which occurred prior to Hebard being selected at No. 8. “So really proud of her and what we were able to do as teammates and excited to see her future in the pros.”
“We’re all so excited for each other. We’ve been talking to each other this entire time about this day. So I’m just super excited to see where [Hebard] goes. She deserves it and Satou deserves it. Just really blessed and excited to be able to share this moment with them.”
For all three players, Friday night was the culmination of years of hard work, countless hours of practice and training to put themselves in this position to have their childhood dreams realized.
“That it’s worth it,” Ionescu said when asked what she would tell her younger self at this moment. “I guess that it’s worth all the long nights, early mornings of going in and doing all the extra work. This is really what it’s all about. I’m so excited for this opportunity, but not settling here. I’m just excited to continue evolving my game and doing more.”
Ionescu played a huge role in lifting the University of Oregon program to national prominence. When she arrived in Eugene, the Ducks had not made it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament since 2005. They made it to the Elite Eight in each of the past three years, including their first-ever Final Four appearance last season, and were poised for another deep run before the NCAA season was canceled.
Can Ionescu bring the same magic to New York that she brought to Oregon?
“Being a part of a younger team and just trying to learn from them and seeing where I fit in, what role I’m going to play, is exciting,” she said. “Bringing a competitive spirit that I have. I’m just excited to get there and work with the team and hopefully just continue to use my platform and what I did at Oregon and bring that to the Liberty.”
Sabally is in a similar position to Ionescu as she joins a Dallas team that is loaded with young players – they had three of the top seven picks in Friday’s draft – following the departures of All-Stars Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith in each of the past two offseasons.
— WNBA (@WNBA) April 17, 2020
Sabally was one of three draft-eligible juniors that decided to forgo her senior season and enter the WNBA Draft. She admitted to having second thoughts about the decision to leave early, but the end result of being selected at No. 2 quieted any doubts she may have had.
“It does validate it, but I still think I need to prove myself,” she said. “And I’m going to celebrate, I’m excited that I got drafted second, but I’m not going to settle on that, and I’m going to keep going hard and really try to prove myself.”
Sabally, who is from Germany and plays for the German national team, is heading to a city whose NBA team was led to its greatest moments by another talented forward from Germany – Dirk Nowitzki. Sabally talked about what this night means not only for the Oregon community but the German community as well.
— WNBA (@WNBA) April 18, 2020
“My game and mentality has really been influenced by Germany and the European culture, just playing in nearly every country in Europe and in almost every city in Germany has taught me how to travel, how to have that professional life, and I feel like I’m bringing that into the WNBA already as a rookie,” she said.
Sabally is ready to put the work in to improve all aspects of her game, saying that she is never satisfied with herself and where her game is – she always sees room to get better. She did say there is one move in particular that she must add to her arsenal.
“You can improve everything, and I’m also going to get that Dirk [Nowitzki] fadeaway shot since I will be in Dallas.”
Any hopes for an Oregon reunion for Hebard and Ionescu in New York were dashed by the Chicago Sky, who selected the talented forward with the No. 8 pick, just one pick ahead of New York’s second first-round selection. While Hebard won’t be able to reunite with her point guard from college, she joins a Sky team that has a record-breaking assist disher in Courtney Vandersloot.
— WNBA (@WNBA) April 18, 2020
“I’m super excited for Chicago and Courtney Vandersloot who played for [Oregon] Coach [Kelly] Graves is there and I already got a text from her, so I’m really excited that Chicago picked me, and I can’t wait to work with my new teammates,” Hebard said.
Hebard took part in the virtual draft from her hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, where she was surrounded by her family. While she grew up in Alaska, she was born in Chicago and returns to her birthplace to begin her professional career.
“I was kind of thinking like oh, Chicago picked me, it would be so cool to not only play for a great team but just to be able to see and learn a little more about Chicago, where I was born and stuff like that,” she said.
But before she heads to Chicago, there will be a parade in Fairbanks to celebrate her accomplishment of entering the WNBA. Of course, with the current times, it will be a social distancing parade.
“They’re just going to drive through and people are going to be in their cars, so there’s social distancing,” she said. “Going to drive through and wave and see a lot of familiar faces, and it’s so nice to have my town backing me and supporting me.”
There is much to celebrate in Fairbanks as well as in Eugene as the University of Oregon women’s basketball program joined some elite company by having three of its players selected in the first round of the WNBA Draft.
“It was great to be able to be drafted with my two teammates,” said Hebard. “I know if Eugene could have a party right now, it would probably be a pretty good party.”