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GOAT Leads Former Ducks into WNBA Season

Ionescu, Hebard, Sabally on 2023 Rosters

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-Arizona vs Oregon Richard Brian-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 WNBA season got underway in recent weeks, and three of the Ducks finest are on Association rosters this year. While the League has faced some challenges - including the illegal detention of star player Brittney Griner by Russia for 10 months in 2022 - it appears to be on firm footing and seems to have recovered completely from the Covid-19 disruption.

Sabrina Ionescu, widely recognized as the best women’s basketball player in school history, and Nyara Sabally play for the New York Liberty, while former Duck center Ruthy Hebard plays for the Chicago Sky. Both the Liberty and the Sky play in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference where New York is currently in 2nd place and Chicago in 4th with about a quarter of the regular season complete.

Hebard is in the most unique situation of the three former Ducks - while playing overseas in Hungary during the WNBA offseason, Ruthy discovered she was pregnant. She returned to Chicago and gave birth to a baby boy in mid-April. She is currently on leave and has not yet announced a schedule for her return to play.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-Arizona vs Oregon Richard Brian-USA TODAY Sports

Sabally is a backup forward for the Liberty, playing about 10 minutes a game. She is averaging 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Her best outing of the season so far was a game against Seattle in the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup where she scored 7 points in 7 minutes on the floor. She is shooting 40 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from the free throw line.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Sweet Sixteen-Oregon at Louisville Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

That Ionescu is one of the stars of the WNBA comes as no surprise to any Duck fan who followed her career at Oregon. In Eugene, she became the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles and is widely considered to have been denied leading Oregon to its first NCAA Women's Basketball Championship by the Covid-19 Duck fans anyway. Now in her 4th season with the Liberty, Ionescu is a starting guard playing 32 minutes per game averaging 16.5 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. She is also shooting 87.5 percent from the charity stripe, pulling down more than 6 rebounds per game and has a 4 - 2 assists-to-turnovers ratio. She recently suffered a hamstring injury and her return to the lineup is not known.

Her best game this year was a 37-point explosion just a week ago against Atlanta in which she shot over 61 percent from 3-point distance. She had 20 points in the second quarter alone in the Liberty’s 106 - 83 dismantling of the Dream.

The WNBA regular season runs through early September and the League is actively exploring strategies that will allow it to expand - including a potential return to Portland - and become more popular and profitable. Doing so will allow it to solve what are probably its two main challenges: the small number of teams and the relatively low pay. Having only 12 teams means there is no place for many of the talented players who come out of college each year. The League’s pay structure which provides for salaries between $57,000 and $215,000 per season leaves many players feeling as though they have to take a second job during the off-season. Even a WNBA star and Olympic Gold Medalist like Griner felt like she had to play overseas - unfortunately in Russia which put her at risk. Ionescu’s “second job” has recently been as a consultant to Oregon’s basketball program and Sabally is an assistant basketball coach at Sacramento State.

The Liberty next sees action this Sunday against Griner’s Phoenix Mercury (although Griner may be out with a hip injury). You can watch that game at 9:00 am on CBS. The Sky will play tonight against Indiana at 5:00 pm on NBA TV.