Sabrina Ionescu, Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard will have their professional hoops dreams become a reality this week.
Well, a virtual reality.
The WNBA draft will air live on ESPN beginning at 4 p.m. Friday with league commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing the picks from a remote location.
Two legendary players, Rebecca Lobo and Sue Bird, will join studio host Ryan Ruocco in Bristol, Conn., the home of ESPN. Holly Rowe will be reporting on the event remotely.
The New York Liberty will almost certainly select Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick, but everybody’s all-American won’t be able to shake Engelbert’s hand or pose for photographs with a new hat or jersey due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
"I am excited to be able to do it and watch it and I know I will have some family here to share that moment with me," Ionescu said during a recent interview on ESPN when asked about participating from her home in Walnut Creek, Calif. "It is exciting, but obviously not what I had expected to be able to be in New York and walk across that stage. But I'm glad to do something virtually and still be able to share that moment together."
Oregon, which has never had a player taken in the first round of the WNBA draft, may produce the top two picks and have three players selected in the top 10 this year.
ESPN’s latest mock draft projects Sabally being picked No. 2 by the Dallas Wings over local favorite Lauren Cox of Baylor.
Hebard, the other member of Oregon’s "Big Three," is also expected to be a first-round pick.
"Obviously, this is really a neat feather in the cap of our university and our program," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. "It’s a pretty special time because it just doesn't happen to programs like ours very often. …
"That’s a big part of what we try to do as a coaching staff is help our players realize their dreams. And that's what these three are doing."
Ionescu, already a household name in the college game after shattering the NCAA record for triple-doubles and becoming the first member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-assist, 1,000-rebound club, will bring some crossover appeal to the Big Apple.
Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said the Brooklyn Nets, who own New York’s WNBA franchise, plan to make room on the Barclays Center marquee next to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving next season.
"Anytime you can bridge the two worlds, I think it’s good for both," Hopkins said on pre-draft teleconference with reporters on Monday. "(Nets general manager) Sean Marks is good on collaboration, and we’ve talked about ways to bridge the two groups."
Ionescu has already earned the respect of some NBA greats. She was mentored by the late Kobe Bryant and has been working out with Steph Curry in the Bay Area.
The senior guard was named the Associated Press and United States Basketball Writers Association national player of the year in March and recently picked up the Wooden Award, the Naismith Trophy, the Wade Trophy and the Senior CLASS Award.
"To me, she's a perfect fit for New York," said Lobo, the former UConn star who played for the Liberty from 1997-2003. "The New York fan base is a little bit different. Even 20-plus years ago when I was there, you could be walking through Central Park and people will start talking to you about basketball. There's an awareness of sports and the sports culture in the city that is a little bit different.
"I think Sabrina is perfectly suited for that. Not only her game, which is next level, but her personality and her drive and her will to win. She fits in high-pressure moments. She lives for them, she craves them and she comes through in them."
Sabally left the Ducks after averaging 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds during her junior season. The 6-foot-4 wing is one of the most versatile players in the draft and still has a lot of room for improvement.
"Selfishly, you would like to have Satou back," Graves said. "I think another year could have done her well. But at the same time, we're in it to help advise what's best for them, and I think she was ready for the pros."
Hebard, who was Ionescu’s unassuming but equally dominant sidekick for four seasons, has already mastered the pick-and-roll game.
The power forward, projected to be selected by the Seattle Storm at No. 11 in ESPN’s mock draft, averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds as a senior.
"Ruthy is going to be good," Arizona coach Adia Barnes told ESPN of Hebard’s transition to the WNBA. "But she'll need to get bigger and stronger."
The Big Three’s final NCAA Tournament run together was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Oregon finished the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll behind South Carolina.
The harsh reality is the Ducks will never know if they would have cut down the nets at the Final Four and delivered the program’s first national championship.
"Usually when you are around certain teams, you feel like that might be a team of destiny, and they had that kind of a vibe to them," said Lobo, who was part of the broadcast team during Oregon’s Pac-12 Tournament championship run just before the sports world was silenced by social distancing. "They had Sabrina, and no one else had Sabrina in the lineup. South Carolina, they're an amazing team and they obviously could have won the national championship.
"But it just felt to me that there was just something about Oregon this year."
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.