At this point, the only thing missing from Sabrina Ionescu’s season is an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.”
The Oregon guard already got an Instagram shoutout from Steph Curry, had her shoes signed by Kobe Bryant and played pop-a-shot with Neil Everett on the set of “SportsCenter.”
What’s next, wine tasting with LeBron James? Parasailing with Barack Obama? Singing backup with Beyonce?
The Oregon women’s basketball bandwagon is getting crowded, but there’s always room for a celebrity fan or two. Counted among Oregon’s admirers are the No. 3 scorer in NBA history (Bryant) and the best shooter on the planet (Curry), which should tell you something about the caliber of basketball being played at Matthew Knight Arena.
Game recognizes game, as they say.
“It’s just awesome to see where this program has gone and how much attention we’re getting from players in the NBA and greats like those players are,” Ionescu said.
So the next time some dude spouts off on Twitter about thinking he could go one-on-one with a women’s basketball player in the driveway, remind him that many of best players in the world are fans of the women’s game. Bryant in particular has been an outspoken supporter of women’s basketball, showing up courtside at big events and doing promotional work with the WNBA.
Bryant was sitting front and center when the Ducks played at USC last week. His appearance wasn’t a total surprise — his personal assistant called coach Kelly Graves earlier in the week — but players had no idea he’d be stopping by the locker room for a postgame visit.
During Oregon’s 40-point win, Graves managed to sneak a few glances at Bryant breaking down the game with his young daughters.
“I shouldn’t have, but we had a little bit of cushion,” Graves said. “Every once in a while we’d make a play and he’d nudge the kids next to him and say, ‘See, that’s how you do it.’ It made me feel pretty good.”
Bryant posed for pictures and signed autographs with each player. The Ducks also presented him with a pair of his own signature shoes, the Nike Kobe A.D., in green and yellow.
“It was amazing,” forward Ruthy Hebard said. “I remember him walking in and everyone was talking, like, ‘Is that Kobe?’ Nyara (Sabally) was crying. It was great.”
For Ionescu, that was almost as big a thrill as meeting Curry after the Warriors played the Trail Blazers at Moda Center last month.
Curry had a home in Walnut Creek, Calif., the same East Bay suburb where Ionescu grew up. They have a few mutual friends, and one of those friends arranged the meeting.
“We caught up like old friends,” said Ionescu, who described Curry as her favorite player and the Warriors as her favorite NBA team. “We were just talking and laughing. We really didn’t talk much about basketball — it was more a ‘How are you?’ storytelling type of conversation.
“It was awesome. I’m still star-struck that I met him.”
Graves also got to rub elbows with a few stars of his own generation during the Ducks’ weekend in L.A. The cast of the Fox NFL pregame show — Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Tony Gonzalez — made a surprise appearance at a fundraising event hosted by Oregon’s Women in Flight program at Fox Studios.
“It was a star-studded weekend,” Graves said.
Celebrity fans flock to the Ducks for the same reason the non-famous ones do. If you like sports, how can you not appreciate a team that combines so much joy, passion and skill?
Graves doesn’t discourage the Ducks from enjoying the spotlight. They’ve earned it, and they’ve proved they can handle the attention.
“They should embrace it,” Graves said. “Why not? As long as it doesn’t go to their heads or the time becomes too demanding for them, I don’t think it fazes them.”
I guess this goes to show that even the best players are still fans at heart. Whatever else she accomplishes in her career — and I’m guessing it’ll be a lot — Ionescu will always be able to say she met Kobe Bryant and had her picture taken with Steph Curry.
Or maybe Steph Curry can say he had his picture taken with her.