Sabrina Ionescu has an amazing ability to read a defense, which allows the great guard to slice up opponents with the pick-and-roll or a step-back jumper.
She’s also a fantastic writer.
Oregon women’s basketball fans already knew that with her well-crafted “unfinished business” declaration in The Players’ Tribune last year.
The world witnessed her speech-writing prowess as she delivered in the clutch again during the memorial service for Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
“Maybe at the end, I’ll just be like, ‘Yeah, what Sabrina said,’” Ruthy Hebard, who is nervous about penning her senior day speech for Sunday’s regular-season final at Matthew Knight Arena, joked before Wednesday’s practice.
Only Ionescu could have made the Hollywood script that played out Monday night believable.
About 12 hours before becoming the first NCAA player, man or woman, to finish a career with over 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 1,000 rebounds, Ionescu was waking up in Los Angeles and heading to Staples Center.
Coach Kelly Graves’ wife, Mary, accompanied Ionescu to the memorial service.
Back in the Bay Area, the Ducks gathered around their electronic devices of choice during a shootaround at Maples Pavilion to watch their famous teammate take the same stage as Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
“You could have heard a pin drop,” assistant coach Mark Campbell said. “Everybody was just quiet. There wasn’t a word spoken. (The team) hovered around computers, laptops, cellphones.
“That was just a really special moment on arguably the biggest stage in the world that day.”
Ionescu and Mary Graves caught a flight after the memorial service back to the Bay Area and were at the team hotel by 2:45 p.m.
The other players were having a pre-game meal, but Ionescu was too nauseated to join in.
When the visitors took the floor to warm up for No. 3 Oregon’s critical game at No. 4 Stanford, which aired nationally on ESPN beginning at 6 p.m., Ionescu remained motionless in the visiting locker room.
“She can’t hold anything down, so she’s gnawing on some saltines,” Kelly Graves said. “I just stayed in the locker room with her. She laid on the training table there and had to get up and throw up a couple of times and never did warm up.”
When it was finally time for Graves to go out and coach the team, Ionescu mustered the energy to join him.
“There was never a time when she would have said, ‘Coach, I’m not going to play today,’” Graves said. “That would have never entered into her psyche.”
Two hours later, Ionescu had recorded her 26th career triple-double with 21 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds while leading the Ducks to a 74-66 victory to clinch at least a share of their third consecutive Pac-12 championship.
The date — 2-24-20 — was also significant to Ionescu, who has made No. 20 Oregon women’s jerseys wildly fashionable.
The numerology matched up with the jersey numbers worn by her 13-year-old protege Gianna Bryant (2) and famous mentor Kobe Bryant (24), who were both killed in a helicopter crash last month.
“I think that’s what Kobe saw,” Graves’ said of Ionescu’s ability to handle pressure and thrive in big moments. “She has that same mentality that he did and that he also saw in his daughter Gianna. His wife Vanessa knew that they were close, so when she asked Sabrina to speak at the memorial, what a great honor.
“It is just a testament to her character and who she is to even be asked.”
Satou Sabally scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help Ionescu make sure the Ducks’ winnnng streak was extended to 14 games.
“I’ve never experienced someone like her,” Sabally said. “Her strength and just being able to be such a great role model. She was on national TV and even more that livestream just gave her a platform to describe her love for Kobe and Gigi and what they meant for her.
“But also for what she will mean for future basketball generations. Her coming back, playing that game, writing history … just amazing.”
Campbell thought he would never again see anything like Ionescu’s brave performance in the win at Oregon State. She led Oregon to the Civil War sweep shortly after news of the tragic crash involving the Los Angeles Lakers icon reached Gill Coliseum.
“She has a rare ability to compartmentalize for that two-hour window when it’s time to go out and compete and play,” Campbell said. “After (the game), in both situations, she was just emotionally drained. She’s very special.”
Ionescu’s teammates swarmed her after the game. Her family was there to witness the emotional and productive homecoming for the 22-year-old from Walnut Creek, Calif., who also had a triple-double during Friday’s win at California..
And Graves gave the superstar a much-needed hug after she delivered the Hollywood ending.
“I think it just speaks to what an amazing person she is that she could do all that within the span of a few hours,” Hebard said. “She knew all of her teammates were there for her. I was there for her.
“It’s just really cool to see her have the opportunity to speak at the funeral and then come and make history that night.”
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email questions to email@example.com. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.