By Ellie Lieberman
You’ve heard the headlines. You know she’s the first college basketball player to surpass the 2,000 point mark while also pairing that accolade with 1,000 assists and rebounds, respectively. You know Kobe Bryant was a mentor figure that has touched her life tremendously, and how she flew from his celebration of life to go win the PAC-12 Tournament for Oregon. You know she was the number one pick in the WNBA Draft and that her New York Liberty jersey sold out in less than an hour online. You might have even heard that she played H-O-R-S-E against Steph Curry in our gym just days before the draft .
What you might not know or see is the human side of Sabrina Ionescu. The Sabrina that is portrayed on TV and in the media is no facade; she’s real, genuine and humble in every training session at our gym. She accepts her imperfections and is always working harder to be a better person and player. She knows how much work it takes to be a superstar each and every time she touches a basketball.
As a lowly social media intern, I saw this firsthand. My first and only encounter with Sabrina was over Thanksgiving break. Her smile brought an immediate glow to the gym and you could tell every single one of us there was graced by her presence. But me, I was truly starstruck to be around such a relaxed superstar. I tried to keep my distance and admire the basketball phenomenon unfolding before my eyes until the most unexpected of unexpected happened. Sabrina introduced herself to me.
“Hey, I’m Sabrina. I don’t think we’ve met.”
I was truly at a loss for words. Here I was, just a 20-year-old, and the best women’s basketball player to possibly ever play the game was introducing herself to me. It was just two college kids talking. I will never forget her humility.
As Ionescu dazzles her way onto the national scene and becomes not only a Nike spokeswoman but the utmost trailblazer for ballers beyond just the Bay Area and Eugene, I, for one, urge you to celebrate everything Ionescu brings to the table. Not much has been written about her human side, safe for a remarkable profile piece by Bleacher Report’s Mirin Fader.
Fader writes about Sabrina’s depth of emotions after winning the PAC-12 Championship this year.
“[After the win], she also allowed her teammates to see her full self. Not just Powerful Sabrina. Not just Leader Sabrina.
This time she showed Vulnerable Sabrina. When the Stanford game ended, when she did not have to talk to the media, she let herself not be on. She cried in front of her teammates. She dared to let them see her hurt. See that she was not perfect.”
At UPB, we’ve seen it all. Sabrina the trailblazer. Sabrina the college student. And Sabrina, the fragile person, healing from a year of unequivocal loss on and off the court. She's a human just like the rest of us.
Behind the creation of UPBYCF lies years of activism for both Turners and a sustained interest in bettering communities in The Bay Area. They know the statistics that six times as many low-income students drop youth sports when compared to those from high-income families because of access (Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative). They also know firsthand the power sports has to build character because “a survey of 400 female corporate executives found 94% played a sport and that 61% say sports contributed to their career success (EY Women Athletes Business Network/espnW, 2014). The launch of UPBYCF is bounded in these statistics and in past experiences both Turners have had with nonprofits such as The Boys and Girls Club, Big Homie Project, and Play MakeHers. Yearly clinics at UPB have focused on women’s empowerment, and tackled issues like access to sports, and hunger.