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A Letter to Ducks Nation

Apr 7 2019
Photo by
Chris O'Meara/AP Images
Photo by
Chris O'Meara/AP Images
Sabrina Ionescu
Oregon Ducks
Apr 7 2019

Bro.

That’s all he said. Bro.

There’s a lot of things my brother might text me, and it’s like I already know what level of text it is — just based on that “secret sibling language” we have with each other.

He could text “SABRINA” and that could mean certain things. He could text “Yo…..” and that could mean certain things. Or he could just throw up a few emojis and of course those all mean certain things.

But when it’s urgent…. like CODE-RED-LEVEL urgent? When it’s the highest of the highest level of you have to read this text? That’s going to be: Bro. Just, Bro.

So when he texted me just that word last week, I knew it was about to be something crazy. But I had no idea how crazy.

I had no idea my brother’s next text was going to be a link. To ESPN+. Where there was a video feature on me and my game.

By KOBE BRYANT.

Alright — I’m going to be honest here: I’m not an ESPN+ subscriber. I don’t really have that kind of money. None of my teammates do either. So now my phone is blowing up….. our group text is blowing up….. everyone is going crazy about this KOBE DETAILS SABRINA video….. but none of us can actually watch it.

Eventually, though, I find someone who has a subscription and they let me watch. And I watch it. And I watch it. And I watch it. I watch it about a million times. Actually, wait, why am I lying on The Players’ Tribune? I watch it about a BILLION times. It’s KOBE BRYANT, THE BLACK MAMBA, spitting these deep insights about my game. Like, I’m trying not to write this in caps lock — but it’s hard. It’s KOBE, you know what I mean?

And as I kept watching that video over and over, again and again — there’s two main thoughts that were going through my head. One: Kobe got me. He just nailed my game, dead to rights. He was analyzing my pick-and-roll, pointing out specific plays where I should have finished with my left hand instead of my right….. the whole deal. Every analysis was so spot on. It was like seeing genius at work.

And then, two: it’s just crazy, the journey I’ve been on over these last three years, to get here.

And I bet from the outside looking in, when people see me, and they see this season we’ve had as a team and this season I’ve had as a player — you know, they probably think: she’s gotta go pro. They see Oregon Women’s Basketball playing in the Final Four….. almost making the title game. They see me breaking the triple-doubles record and getting scouted by Kobe on ESPN+, and all of that. And they think, What an incredible journey. This is as good as it gets.

But the truth is? They’re only half right.

John Locher/AP Images

Yes, this has been an incredible journey.

But no, this is NOT as good as it gets.

Because those people saying we’ve peaked — they don’t know this program and they don’t know me. And they don’t know the mission we’re on, together, as a group. The mission that we’ve been on.

I came to the University of Oregon as a freshman in 2016-2017. We made the Elite Eight (and lost big).

I came back to the University of Oregon as a sophomore in 2017-2018. We made the Elite Eight (and lost close).

I came back to the University of Oregon as a junior in 2018-2019. We made the Final Four.

And now I couldn’t be happier to announce that I’m coming back to the University of Oregon for the 2019-2020 basketball season.

I won’t predict exactly how far we’re going to go….. but I’ll just say this.

We have unfinished business.

And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. My teammates and I, our coaches, our fans, this program — we’re not going on a “run,” you know what I mean?? We’re not doing one of those things where, like, a team appears out of the blue, on the backs of a few good players, and then makes some noise for a season or two before heading back underground. Nah. This isn’t that.

We’re building something here in Eugene. We’re building something — together — that’s going to last for a long time after we’ve all graduated. From the upperclassmen, who showed me the way — Oti, Maite and Ruthy (and maybe especially Ruthy, who came in together with me and has gone from my roommate, where we gave each other the silent treatment that first year, to my best friend in the world)….. to our awesome underclassmen, Morgan, Nyara, Taylor, Lydia, Erin, Satou….. to our incoming class of freshmen that we already have committed….. to our amazing coaching staff, led by Coach Graves….. to our UNBELIEVABLE FANS who, honestly — y’all have no idea.

I remember our home games that first year. It was basically my parents, my friends….. and, like, that was it. And we would joke about how nice it was because they could all pick any seat in the arena they wanted. But seriously, it really was like that!! We’d be lucky to draw 1,000 fans that first year. Now we’re drawing…. I think we averaged almost 7,000 fans per home game this year. And then add to that — we have people like Steph Curry, Shea Serrano and LeBron James shouting us out, and climbing on the bandwagon?!

Something is happening here.

We’re building a program — and not just any program.

We’re building a program that wins national championships.

Starting, I hope, with this next one.

Jordan Murph/SI/Getty Images

The truth is, the first time I watched Kobe’s DETAILS video — I was a little disappointed. Not with the video, of course. It was perfect. But there was a part of me that was like, Oh…. no. He scouted me TOO well. Like I had this feeling inside of me — that if I was so easy for Kobe to scout, maybe my game wasn’t on the level that I thought it was?? Was I really that easy, Mamba??

Then we lost to Baylor in the Final Four. It was one of the toughest losses of my life. I really thought that we had a chance to win that game — and even to win it all. So to make it that far, and then to fall just short..… it was pretty agonizing.

But it’s funny — after that game, on the way home? I queued up the Kobe video one more time. And I realized something: Kobe scouting me that well? Mamba having me figured out? That’s not a diss. What that was — is a challenge. That’s Kobe saying to me, I think, O.K., I SEE YOU. I see you, and I like what you’re showing me. But now you’ve got to show me something extra. Now it’s time for you to take this All-American game, this Final Four game, this hot prospect game, this Oregon Women’s Basketball program-leading game….. and take it to the next, next level. The level that no one sees coming. That’s how you go from good to great.

That’s how you go from contender to champion.

And I think I understand that now.

To my high school basketball coach Kelly Sopak, who’s been on this journey with me since the third grade….. thank you. To my University of Oregon family, from my teammates, to my classmates, to my coaches, to my professors….. thank you. And to my family family, who I love more than anything in the world….. thank you.

Ducks Nation — I’ll see you next year. Let’s see some packed houses.

Kobe — I’ll see you next year, too. Hope you keep watching.

And WNBA — I’ll see you soon. Real soon, I promise.

Just have some business to take care of first.

Sabrina Ionescu
Oregon Ducks