Why Sabrina Ionescu’s bounce is crucial to her role as the next WNBA star

Kelly Subak can remember the exact moment he saw it Sabrina Ionescu Embrace the art of throwback.

As a sixth grader, Ionescu was playing with the eighth grade team. She was skilled and had a chance to be special but wasn’t physically enough yet. When her teammates headed off to high school the following year, Subak—who coached Ionesco in high school and at the grassroots level—played with her age group.

If Ionescu has made one rebound up to that point, it would probably be the highest of his career. Soon that changed.

“He just had the uncanny ability to kind of a knife through people and slip between people (to get a rebound),” Subak said. “She was (at that point) taking shape. She still had her long arms. I was starting to see her recovery.”

While Subak could see when it all came together for her in seventh grade, Ionescu looks back on her days playing with and against boys. Growing up with an older brother and a twin brother, Ionescu was often the only girl at the games. She spent a lot of time on the fieldCapture the significance of the blackboard rupture.

“They didn’t really pass the ball, so I had to find a way to get the ball and it was just a bounce,” said Ionescu. “So I think I always found a way to try to help the team and get as many rebounds as possible.”

Now the beginning of New York LibertyThis skill helps make Ionescu one of the young stars in WNBA. She has scored twice three times this season and has been on the verge of achieving that feat a few times. She averaged 7.2 rebounds per game, the 11th in the league ranking 92nd, according to HerHoopStats, and the most rebounds per game among keepers. 6.1 defensive rebounds per game ranked seventh overall. Add that to her assists (6.2 per game, third in the league) and scoring (17.2 points per game, ninth), and Ionescu is clearly a uniquely versatile player.

Ionescu is the only starting ball player for the team in the top 20 in rebounds this season. So BirdFor comparison’s sake, the average is 1.7 rebounds for a game, while sky Veteran goalkeeper Ali Quigley It amounts to 2.8 games.

“(I’m) impressed by her freshness,” Quigley said. “Not many goalkeepers can get that many rebounds per game. In general, it’s just their competitiveness and their fearlessness (it stands out).”

In high school, Ionescu became a rebound magnet. If she is not playing the point guard, the ball is usually passed to her. If you go for the bounce, you often get it. By the time she left Miramonte High School in California, Ionescu had set a rebounding record for one season: 298 when she was a junior. By the time she left college in Oregon, she was the first female player (female or male) in NCAA history with 2,000 career points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 career assists.

“First of all, she cares,” Subak said. “You can teach (bounce) technique. You can teach a lot of things about boxing. But at the end of the day: Watch the ball, get the ball, and this is Sabrina.”

Ionescu’s recovery is as much a part of her career as it was in her younger days – and fans are starting to see her full potential. After being named #1 in the 2020 draft, she suffered a sprained ankle three games in her career and sat out the rest of her rookie season. She wasn’t healthy in her second pro season either, and she chose not to play outside last winter. I focused on rehab and training to come back to New York healthy and refreshed. Now, it looks like Ionescu has found a foothold. Between its nearly continuous triple-double watches and its signature plays, it’s truly one of the must-watch guards of the league.

Sabrina Ionescu’s ability to rebound as a goalkeeper made her stand out in her third pro season. (Wendell Cruz/USA Today)

Sopak still sees a version of the younger Ionescu upon watching her play Liberty.

“I still see a little kid running there on TV now and getting bouncy balls the same way she always did,” he said. “And I really think it’s because she cares.”

This season has revealed many sides for Ionescu. She was a major reason why New York’s hopes were alive; It calculates team-wide average minutes and points while adding clutch shots at the big moments. She made her All-Star debut and won the skills competition as part of the weekend’s festivities. While the weekend in Chicago focused heavily on honoring retired legends Bird and Silvia FowlesIonescu’s play helped bring to life the next generation of WNBA—and for which she was making headlines.

Quigley, who retired from the 3-point competition after notching four record wins, has named Ionescu as a player who can take on the mantle of that competition. Candice ParkerThe Sky veteran who has also scored triples this season sees Ionescu’s ability to collect points, rebounds and assists as part of the game’s evolution. Moriah Jefferson And the Alyssa Thomas Each has a triple-double performance this season, but Only 11 players have scored three doubles in the history of the league.

“I think it’s the new age for gamers, but I also think that’s the way the game is played now,” Parker said. She tied with Ionescu for most triples in league history with three in total. “It’s fast paced now. Now, you’re seeing 90s and 100s. They’re setting the record for 3-point shots. So it’s more like crafted picks. When we were coming into the league, I don’t know the average score, but I’m sure it was lower. Much more than it is now. So you have more shooters, so you’ll get more help and your playmaking will be better. So I think it’s just a combination of skill set for players like Sabrina, but also, I think it’s a skill set around them that are able to drop strikes “.

The transition from “Triple-Double Queen” to pro has forced Ionescu to adapt to veteran bouncers like Parker. There is not only a larger age gap – rookies face some players almost twice their age – but also more physical opponents.

“It was a learning experience and I’m just trying to do my best to do whatever I can to help the team win,” said Ionescu. “If it’s to get a lot of rebounds or nothing, that’s what I’ll do.”

Ionescu continues to watch the ball, see the spin and get to the best place to try to secure the ball. Sopak said she’s long been talented at deciding where the ball will go, either from her shot or someone else’s shot. Ionescu’s passing accuracy is seen as another example of her intuitive feel for the game. For Sopak, what has been overlooked in her awards is her ability to help help her teammates get the plates.

One of these colleagues, Natasha Howard, smiles when asked about Ionesco’s recoil. “She’s hitting my rebounds,” the 6-foot-2 forward said with a laugh.

Howard actually likes what Ionescu brings to Liberty in paint and how she adds 5-11 guard points of additional possessions with her bouncer. Compare Howard Ionescu to Connecticut Sun‘s Courtney Williams (averaging 5.3 rebounds per game over her career.) Liberty had an extraordinary season, dealing with a slew of injuries that seemed to hamper their post-season hopes. After a 1-7 start, Liberty won seven out of 10 next, in the All-Star break with momentum. New York found it with four consecutive defeats, but then won a close match against defending champion Sky on Saturday to remain in the playoffs.

Ionescu came led to the basket that tied the match in the last 10 seconds.

She climbed as if she had countless times before. Over the course of the season, Howard watched Ionescu become more vocal. Like others, she sees a bright future for Ionescu.

Howard said, “In my eyes, she’s turning into a vet.”

(Top image: Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

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