Meet Sabrina Ionescu
The college basketball superstar—and Walnut Creek native—is smashing NCAA records.
She might be a little taller than most young women, but otherwise, Sabrina Ionescu looks like a typical college student. In conversation, she’s measured and calm. She sits quietly, and takes her time before offering opinions.
But don’t be fooled: Ionescu will cut your heart out to win a basketball game.
Following a dazzling career at Orinda’s Miramonte High, where she was named MaxPreps National Player of the Year in 2016, Ionescu went on to play point guard for the University of Oregon—and won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors after her sophomore season. At just 20 years old, Ionescu has already set the NCAA’s Division I women’s record for triple-doubles, and she’s on track to not only break but shatter every record at Oregon.
Beyond that, the Walnut Creek native stands to achieve national prominence playing professionally; she is expected to be one of the top picks in the WNBA draft whenever she decides to enter it.
So, what makes this pleasant young woman such a powerhouse?
“Her will to win and drive to succeed can only be found in the elite few,” says Kelly Graves, her coach at Oregon.
Kelly Sopak, Ionescu’s former coach at Miramonte, elaborates: “She’s playing chess, and everyone else is playing checkers.”
“I was always able to see a step ahead,” says Ionescu, who got her start playing pickup games with her twin brother, Eddy, at Walnut Creek’s Larkey Park. (Even though, she notes, the older guys there didn’t want her to play … at first.)
Still, that ability to see what others can’t, coupled with her competitiveness—she wants to win every scrimmage, dominate every drill—can create complications. When her teammates don’t measure up, she lets them know.
“I’ve definitely made people cry,” Ionescu says without a hint of apology. “But my teammates know me well enough off the court to know that everything I tell them on the court is to help us. … In fact, usually they’ll try not to laugh, because they think it’s funny when I get mad.”
Despite their smiles, Ionescu’s intensity does translate. “Her ability to raise the level of play of her teammates is uncanny,” Sopak says. That may explain how the East Bay teen came out of nowhere to make the USA Basketball Under-16 team at an open tryout in 2013.
Since then, Ionescu has played on three national teams, winning gold each time, and represented her country in international three-on-three tournaments. She’s in the mix for the 2020 Olympics in the three-on-three category (the first time the event has been on the Olympic agenda), and she’s on USA Basketball’s radar for a spot on the traditional Olympic women’s team in 2024 and 2028.
But for now, Ionescu is back in Eugene, Oregon, blending in with the other students on campus—at least until she puts on the uniform.
See Ionescu in Action
East Bay basketball fans will have the opportunity to witness Sabrina Ionescu’s superstar-level abilities for themselves when the Oregon Ducks come to Moraga for the Thanksgiving Classic tournament at Saint Mary’s College of California. Ionescu’s team will face UC Riverside on November 23, and Saint Mary’s on November 24.
For tickets, visit smcgaels.com or call Saint Mary’s College Athletic Ticket Office at (925) 631-4689.