NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu is set to seize the spotlight in Friday’s virtual WNBA draft, as players and coaches stay behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic that forced the postponement of the league’s upcoming season.
Ionescu, the first NCAA player to score 2,000 career points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists, is all but assured to become the first overall pick, with the disciple of the late Lakers great Kobe Bryant set to become a force in the league.
“She’s got everything you want in the skill set but the number one thing people talk about is her competitiveness and competitive fire,” ESPN analyst and hall of famer Rebecca Lobo told reporters Monday. “That’s the thing that can separate the great ones.”
The guard is expected to land with the New York Liberty, who limped their way to a 10-24 record last season and are looking to rebuild at their new Barclays Center home in Brooklyn.
Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins praised the 22-year-old for her “phenomenal” leadership skills.
“She’s not somebody who just stands back and says what to do – she’ll come down on teammates but it’s in a way that’s constructive and you can watch their body language as they take that feedback,” Hopkins told reporters.
“It’s not easy to be that type of a leader because you have to be doing everything you’re saying in order to have the credibility.”
Her coronation will occur as much of the pro sports world is on hold and with the annual NCAA tournament wiped from the schedule last month, leaving one fewer opportunity for under-appreciated players to distinguish themselves.
“Usually this time of year, when we’re talking to coaches or GMs, there’s one or two players who they talk about - their draft stock skyrocketed throughout the course of the NCAA tournament,” said Lobo. “We didn’t have a chance to see those players or have those experiences.
“There’s always a player who can make her mark in big moments and we missed out on all of that.”
The Women’s National Basketball Association earlier this month announced it would push back the start of its regular season, which was originally scheduled to run from May 15-Sept. 20 due to the coronavirus.
The draft is set to begin on Friday at 7 p.m. (2300 GMT) on ESPN.
Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Stephen Coates