Ionescu excited to return to court after 8 months away

NEW YORK — Sabrina Ionescu is excited to be playing basketball again nearly eight months after spraining her ankle 21/2 games into her rookie season with the New York Liberty.

The No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft is raring to go after a long rehab process. Her team will tip off the 25th WNBA season on May 14 at home against Indiana.

“I’m trying not to think too much about it,” Ionescu said in a Zoom interview. “I learned my lesson last year that it can be taken away at any moment. I look forward to any time I can step on the court. In the back of my head, I can’t wait to play in my first game since it’s been a really long time.”

Ionescu suffered a Grade 3 sprain in her left ankle on July 31 in the Liberty’s third game of the year. She was unable to return last season and underwent surgery in November to remove scar tissue that had formed in the ankle.

“It’s been tough. tests you as a player, mentally, physically,” Ionescu said. “It taught me a lot about myself. A lot about what’s important. The mental aspect of everything. taking it one day at a time. controlling what you can.”

The road wasn’t an easy one for Ionescu, who hadn’t really had such an extended break from playing basketball in her young career. She leaned on advice from family, friends and Steph Curry.

“I talked to Steph for sure since he had so many ankle injuries,” said Ionescu, who rehabbed at home in California. “Talked to him and asked him how he felt returning to play. The confidence he had and what he went through. He gave me great advice.”

The Liberty are taking it slow with their young star, easing her back to court activities during training camp, which began earlier this week.

“I want to take an abundance of caution with Sabrina,” Liberty coach Walt Hopkins said. “Make sure she’s in a good place. Not rush anything.”

It wasn’t all rehab for Ionescu over the last eight months. She teamed with Xbox to surprise her former youth basketball team — The Cal Stars — with shoes, and custom Xbox controllers.

“it was a fun project,” she said. “I was super excited to see how happy the girls were. To be able to do it in person and obviously being safe, it was really fun.”

Now she’s in New York, ready to help the Liberty improve on last season’s 2-20 finish. The team did add a lot of key pieces around Ionescu, with the addition of Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb and Betnijah Laney.

“I’m really excited. We have great players that we have coming in and a good returning core as well,” Ionescu said. Really like the players we have here. Love the coaching staff, love everything about the ownership and organization. I want to Take this organization to new heights.”

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