Walnut Creek native Sabrina Ionescu was the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft Friday night, going to the New York Liberty in an Oregon sweep of the top two picks.
Ionescu set the NCAA record for triple-doubles and was the first college player to have over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in her career. Ionescu was one of three first round picks for New York, which also had Nos. 9 and 12.
“I’ve been working for this for my entire basketball career and super excited to see that come to fruition,” Ionescu said. “I just say I’m very humbled and excited for the opportunity.”
Ducks teammate Satou Sabally, one of three juniors to forego their last year of college eligibility and enter the draft, went second to Dallas. It’s the third time in the history of the draft that the top two picks were from the same program.
“To go 1-2 with Satou is a really cool feeling and shows all the hard work we went through this year paid off,” Ionescu said. “Really proud of her and what we were able to do as teammates and excited to see her future in the pros.”
Lauren Cox went third to Indiana and Chennedy Carter was the fourth pick by Atlanta. Dallas took Bella Alarie with the fifth pick. The Princeton star was only the second Ivy League player to be drafted that high. Harvard star Allison Feaster was also selected fifth in the 1998 draft by the Los Angeles Sparks.
It was a WNBA draft like no other because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league held it virtually with players in their own homes instead of being in a central location, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced selections from her home in New Jersey, holding up the jersey of the player being chosen.
The WNBA tried to create a draft like experience for the players, sending them a care package with hats of all 12 teams, a WNBA sweatshirt, confetti and a few other items. Coaches and general managers were spread throughout the country and world, so they set up virtual war rooms instead of gathering in their own team facilities.
While the draft was held Friday, its still unclear when the league will actually start its season. Engelbert reinforced on a conference call earlier in the day that there was no timetable to when the season will begin. She said there were a variety of scenarios in play, but the most important factor was the health of everyone.
Training camp was supposed to begin next weekend with the regular season opener originally scheduled for May 15.
The league held its usual conference call with the teams before the ESPN broadcast started to eliminate any chance of a pick not being in on time.
Engelbert announced the WNBA, along with presenting draft partner State Farm and the players’ union, will donate $20,000 for each of the 12 first-round picks to Direct Relief to help get protective gear and medication to health-care workers as quickly as possible.
The league also honored Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester before the start of the draft. Engelbert announced their names as jerseys were shown on the screen with each of the three players on them. The teenagers were among the nine people who died in the helicopter accident on Jan. 26, including Kobe Bryant.
“I think it was a very beautiful thing the WNBA did to be able to draft those three girls,” Ionescu said. “They deserved it and know they are looking down and smiling.”