By Alex Scheer
NCAA Basketball Analyst
I'm a big stats guy. Not like, stats for class (let's not talk about that barely-passing "D" in college), but sports stats. I like seeing players break milestones, shatter records and do things that no one else has ever done. The New England Patriots charging back from a 28-3 deficit in the Super Bowl. The Chicago Cubs coming back from being down three games to one in the World Series. Kevin Bradshaw of U.S. International University scoring a record 72 points vs Loyola Marymount University in an NCAA basketball game… I think you get the idea.
Big moments happen all the time in many different sports, yet sometimes we don’t recognize greatness when we see it because we often attach qualifiers to those moments. Is that fair? I’m not really one to say, but it does happen. Moving on, I also like to think that nothing is a coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. Determination, willpower, destiny “thrust” upon you, whatever it is, everything happens for a reason. That’s why when something that combines the thrill of breaking a milestone with something that seems like a coincidence, you go back and watch it again. And again. And again, ad nauseam. You study every detail of that moment, recognizing it for what it is in that instance:
That’s why when Sabrina Ionescu collected a rebound with 1:50 left to go in the third quarter against Stanford in a battle of top 5 PAC-12 programs, the world stopped for just a moment. My twitter feed, my Facebook timeline, and my phone were all exploding with the following headline:
“Ionescu becomes the first ever NCAA player, male or female, to have 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists.”
Talk about a big moment. To be in a class all by yourself makes you a pretty special player. Looking at who her mentor was, are we really surprised? Surely you all know by now, but her mentor was none other than the Black Mamba himself, one Kobe Bryant. Not by accident, mind you. Kobe scouted her on an ESPN+ video, and you can read more about that in her letter to Ducks Nation here after losing to Baylor in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in 2019.
Why is the Kobe mentorship, the installation of the “Mamba Mentality,” so important to this moment for Sabrina? As the world knows, we lost Kobe, his daughter Gigi, and 6 other individuals in a tragic helicopter accident on January 26, 2020. Sabrina had developed a close friendship with both Kobe and Gigi during her four years at Oregon, learning from Kobe and drinking in his basketball knowledge and prowess. Studying and learning from one of the best. Their relationship meant so much to her, not only personally but in how she prepared for every game… first one on the gym, last one to leave. She surprises herself and intentionally looks for faults in her own game. She wants to be flawless because she wants to be the best. Second best isn't an option.
In a post game interview on January 12, Sabrina was shocked to find out she had tallied another triple-double against Arizona, but that's not the take away. If you watch the clip HERE, the clips ends with the following quote "wow... six turnovers though is NOT ok!" LEGENDARY.
I mentioned how there are no such things as coincidences and I truly believe that. But, get ready for some numbers that are going to make you scratch your head as I did, questioning my own belief that there aren’t coincidences. Some of them take some work, but let’s just appreciate the greatness that has unfolded ever so quietly, right under our noses for the last four years.
Record setting date: 2/24/20 Gigi, Kobe and Sabrina jersey numbers: 2, 24, 20
Career triple-doubles: 26 Kobe and Gigi’s jersey numbers combined: 26
2019-2020 season triple-doubles: 8 (8th scored on 2/24/20)
Kobe’s original Lakers number: 8
Reminder, all of this came just hours after speaking at a memorial service in Los Angeles for Kobe and Gigi Bryant. Coincidence? I think not, but it does make you wonder...right?
I’m sure if we kept digging there would be more to uncover, but for now let's admire this athlete for the tremendous work she has put in. She recognizes the milestone was no coincidence, and so should we. Sabrina Ionescu has been working so hard the last four years on her game, her mindset and her desire to win, just like Kobe. Mamba Mentality.
She knows her journey isn’t over, either as an Oregon Duck or in her future role in the WNBA. Sabrina is closing the book on one part of her life but has opened the pages to write the next. Where the future may take her, we don’t know. But, like she said last April, “WNBA - I’ll see you soon. Real soon, I promise. Just have some unfinished business to take care of first.“
Thank you for the amazing season and amazing career to this point, Sabrina. We can’t wait to see what your future holds, and how you and the Oregon Ducks are going to handle your “unfinished business.”
Across the Board Sports