Sabrina Ionescu Talks NY Liberty and More at Team USA Camp
Excitement is in the air! The New York Liberty have had the best offseason in franchise history and enter into 2023 looking to complete some Unfinished Business. With the additions of Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart, and Courtney Vandersloot, the Liberty are one of the favorites to bring home the 2023 WNBA championship. The new trio will join the established duo of Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu.
2022 was incredibly kind to Ionescu. She made her first All Star team and was named All-WNBA second team. To close the year out, she joined Laney, Stewart, and the rest of Team USA in the FIBA World Cup and took home gold. Last week, Team USA held minicamp for the players in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As media, we got to ask Sab about the camp, the Liberty, some goals she has for herself, and plenty more. Here are her responses:
On her expectations going into training camp
“I spent the offseason training and getting ready to be able to play and so coming in obviously, I’ve had a little bit experience being at the World Cup, being you know, around this coaching staff and some of these players . And so just continuing to elevate my game and do what I can to help Team USA win and be the absolute best. So I do that every single day in practice and just continuing to look to grow.”
On her feelings going into the WNBA season with her new teammates on the Liberty
“Excited, excited to get back to New York and start working with all the new additions that we have. We’re gonna have to build chemistry and we’re gonna have to figure out ways to continue to play together and obviously, then play with the returners that we have. Us starting to familiarize ourselves with them and kind of having them included in in our offense and it’s going to change a lot having great players and MVPs now entering the lineup and finding ways to get them open and get them in position.
So it’s just a lot of growing and this offseason is gonna be huge just to continue to build chemistry, whether it’s over text or phone calls, whatever that is, so then we can hit the ground running when we get into New York.”
On the news that she was reportedly getting her own signature shoe line with Nike, if the news was true, and if she’d debut it in camp
“No. I saw that. I do not know what that article was. I cannot speak on it. So yeah, not sure.”
On playing with Betnijah Laney and having success alongside her on the Liberty and in FIBA
“Yeah, it’s always great. You go through seasons with players and you know the highs and lows. You get to know them on a different level and so obviously playing with her for the last two years in the W and then now at USA, we’re really familiar with one another. I think also like the World Cup team, being able to have spent a little over a month with a lot of those players. You kind of come back into a camp like this just really familiar with players. You talk about old stories, stuff that happened in the World Cup and so all that stuff has been really fun.
And you know, it hasn’t been too long ago. It feels like forever ago but it was, I think, about two months ago or three months ago that we were all together, playing and competing. So it’s really fun to be able to share the court with someone I do in the W as well.”
On what she can take away from the World Cup and how it’s helped her grow as a player in the future and at camp
“I think just finding a way to continue to get better on the court. Whether that’s offense, defense, continuing to find your role. Obviously everyone has different roles in the WNBA and for their teams but then when you come into USA Basketball, the goal is to win. And that’s every single day in practice, and that’s every single game and every time we were and represent the National Team. And so, no matter what role it is that I’m playing, it’s always an honor to be here, invited to camp. No matter how many times I get invited, it never gets old. And so, I learned a lot you know, playing [for the] first time in the World Cup and for the National Team and now being able to take that experience on and bring it here.”
On how her offseason training helped her work on her goal of being better at creating her own shot
“Well, Courtney Vandersloot is going to help a lot with that! But the goal still stays the same obviously in the offseason, being able to really fully train. This has been like the first time that I’ve been completely healthy and been able to just fully train from the time the season ended to now and so I’ve been obviously working on just like getting a lot more explosive getting stronger, quicker.
Also just sometimes being more dominant up with the ball. I know I’m a pass first guard but also looking to score and use that as a threat for me as well. No matter what the game’s like, I always want to be able to rely on myself to be able to get a shot off if I need to. And so, I’ve been doing that in training with obviously in the weight room but also on the court.”
On the biggest goal she’s looking to accomplish in camp in preparation for Paris 2024
“I think just to get better. Get better as an individual and as a team from the first day, which is today. I want to continue to just be a sponge and learn as much as I can from coach, from the players around me. Obviously, these are all the best players in the league. And so being able to be surrounded by such players, it’s always great to just be able to learn and pick their brain on things but also just watch how they operate, how they play, how they’re able to adjust their games coming from the WNBA into USA Basketball surrounded by other great players. And so, that’s something I’m continuing to learn. Just being a sponge and obviously the goal is to just be better.”
On how her mentality shift in terms of usage, if at all, when you’re in situations where everyone’s a bucket getter, and there’s only one ball to spread around
“For me, I’m able to play really with anyone. So for me, it doesn’t change. Obviously, as a point guard, I’m doing my best to start watching film on Stewie and Sloot and JJ and figuring out ways that I can help get them the ball in scoring positions. Obviously Sloot and I will be able to play alongside each other and both kind of spearhead the offense. And so for me, I’m not really worried about it being one ball and how are we going to be able to share it. I think we all have similar characteristics and the fact that we’re all unselfish. We all just want to win and we’ll do whatever we can.
Obviously everyone that is here now has sacrificed to be able to put this team together and sacrificed some of their own accomplishments. You know, you can’t go off for 30 every night and shoot 30 shots when you have Breanna Stewart and Jonquel and all these players around you. So I think it takes a lot of sacrifice, but also it shows a lot about the team that we have and the players that we have that are willing to do that in order for us to win.”
On if she’s spoken with her new teammates and how her unique skill set will mesh with them knowing what she knows about them as an opponent
“Yeah, I’ve talked to all of them. Obviously really excited to have them joining our team and what we’re going to be able to accomplish in New York. I think my skill set, with the ability to pass, score at all three levels, and really just do anything that it takes to help us win. I think we’ll all be able to fit right in. If I have to have 15 assists a game and not score for us to win, that’s what I’ll do. And so, I don’t think there’s much concern amongst us on any of that type of stuff. I think at the end of the day, all of our goals is to win a championship and so if that’s if that’s really the goal, and everyone buys into that, I think we’ll all grow and get better with each other.”
On the impact Natasha Howard left on her as a teammate and how she helped her further her career
“She’s been amazing. It’s always sad, seeing a teammate get traded and onto another team. But you never really forget the moments that you’ve had through the highs and lows of seasons. She was there for my first year in the WNBA playing two seasons ago and last year, finally being healthy. So she’s kind of been on that kind of roller coaster of highs and lows with me, which I’m grateful for all her support and how much she’s helped me as a veteran in this league. And so, I know that the best is yet to come for her where all of us in New York are always cheering for her and so appreciative of her time in New York and everything that she helped us accomplish.”
On she was informed first that Breanna Stewart would be joining the Liberty
“I mean, when you guys [found out]. Obviously I had been talking with her and knew that what her decision had come down to. I tried everything that I could to get her to come and you know, there’s a point where you don’t want to do too much and you do want to let a player like her just decide on her own and make the best decision for herself and for her family.
And so that last week, I kind of just, you know, let it up to what you know what she was going to decide and how she wanted to tell it. And so I found out… I had kind of a little bit of an idea that she might be [joining the Liberty], but you never really know until it’s announced from them and so I was just waiting and found out on social media when everyone else did.”
On when she’s going to get married to Las Vegas Raiders center, Hroniss Grasu
“Yeah, you know, that’s a that’s not the easiest thing to sort out. You know, being engaged but soon to be married with an athlete. It’s always something that you have to tackle but I think we have between January and the start of our training camp in April. So hopefully, around that time next year, we’ll be able to come up with a date when we’re both not playing and do it.”
On where they’d be getting married and if it’ll be in Oregon since that’s where they met
“No, not Oregon. I think that’d be a little too much for us. It’d turn into a 3000 person wedding so I don’t know, probably somewhere far and use it as kind of like a little vacation.”
On what the offseason has been for her when it comes to trying to recruit those players she successfully helped recruit and what it was like for her to sort of see the fruits of her labor pay off in the end
“Yeah, I think that’s what I was gonna say. We put ourselves in a position to be able to recruit those type of players. Two years ago, we weren’t in a position to have two MVPs join us and so, I think it shows what this organization is doing and the change that we’ve had and having a lot of those players now join us and buy into the culture that we have, what we’re trying to accomplish, and wanting to do it in New York. So that’s been super honoring to be able to see. We’ve had some rough years and some good ones now, lately. But it’s always nice to see the hard work get rewarded.
And so, it’s been fun reaching out to these players [and] talking to them. Obviously a lot of them are now with us so that’s been really fun. But, it’s been a great offseason in terms of who we’ve been able to acquire and now it’s just time to get to work and obviously, a lot of people are expecting us to accomplish what we want to. But at the end of the day, we have to be able to put the work in and win games.”
On the change from “Why not us?” energy to “We’ve got the target on our back” energy
“That’s always been who I am as a person. I’m I’ve always kind of been the underdog and have had the target on my back through college and so forth. So for me, nothing changes entering the preseason, training camp, and the season exactly the same as I have been, just ready. Obviously now as a team, we have a target on our back. We know we’re going to get everyone’s best game every single night because they want to take down the New York Liberty.
And so, I think that’s only going to make us better. That’s going to have to make us prepare better, not take any games off, any practices off, and just make sure that we’re our absolute best from the day we step foot in New York. And so that’s always exciting, having to play and practice at that level because of having a target on our back and it can only make you better if you see it that way.”
On how the Liberty’s successful series against the Chicago Sky in Round 1 helped show a winning mentality when it came to recruiting star players
“I think if we didn’t have the season that we had last year and the growth that we took from the season before into into this last year, a lot of those players wouldn’t be here. And so I think the fact that we just continue to take steps forward as an organization and as a team, with the addition of a new coaching staff and how we were able we were all able to buy in and learn from them just shows you know why those players are here.
And so obviously that game against Chicago, in Chicago, was a great statement for us and now we have a little taste of what the playoffs are like and what it’s like to play in a multiple series with a team and so obviously, going to take that into next year against all the other teams. But now, being able to have Stewie and a lot of these players who have played in championships, who have won championships, it only can help us.
On the WNBA possibly expanding into the Bay Area
“Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure where they’re going to expand. Back home in the Bay Area and Portland would be amazing. I think just for the fan base… Bay Area basketball has made a name for itself, obviously starting with the [Golden State] Warriors and what they’ve what they’ve been able to do and the dynasty that they’ve been able to build and built in the fan base that they have.
And so obviously, that would be absolutely amazing to have a team there. There’s so many fans and a lot of them travel to LA and to Seattle to come watch me play. And so to be able to have a team in the Bay would just be great for basketball as a whole. And also, I just think the NBA being able to partner with or just have a woman’s team in the Bay Area. I think it’d be great for a lot of the NBA fans, a lot of the players to give them access to be able to go and watch and support.”
On her excitement when she found out Jones, Stewart, and Vandersloot were coming to the Liberty
“Yeah, I was super excited! It’s always great to have like, I mean, I can’t even believe I’m saying that we have those players on our team but it’s always great to be playing with them, not against them. So it’ll be a fun year. Obviously, we’ll go through our highs and lows like every team does. But, I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else but them and have them representing New York and what we’ve been able to build here and obviously, what we’re going to be able to build for years to come.”