New York Liberty's Sabrina Ionescu says ankle now healed from 2020 injury

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
ESPN

After playing through lingering ankle issues last season stemming from the 2020 injury that sidelined her for most of her WNBA rookie year, New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu is finally feeling healthy entering the 2022 campaign.

"[Training camp] has been a lot different already," Ionescu told reporters on Tuesday. "This offseason really consisted of eight months of rehab and training. That's literally what I did since the season ended to right now. So it's just been a lot of getting my body healthy, getting my ankle healthy from the season that just happened."

Ionescu, the 2019-20 national player of the year during her senior year at Oregon and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, suffered a Grade 3 left ankle sprain in her third WNBA game and missed the rest of the season. Though she returned for her first full WNBA season in 2021, playing 30 games and starting 26, she said Tuesday that she wasn't fully healthy last summer. Earlier this year, she said on the "All The Smoke" podcast that it felt like she was playing on a "wooden leg."

Far from 100 percent, Ionescu averaged 11.7 points (37.9% shooting), 6.1 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game last season. The Liberty finished the regular season 12-20 but made the playoffs for the first time since 2017, losing in the first round to the Phoenix Mercury.

"I learned a lot of lessons last year and learned what I should and shouldn't do," Ionescu said. "Don't play if you're not healthy. That's probably the main thing. It's a long game, and it was my second year. Thank God that I didn't get more injured or get a different injury, but sometimes playing through it isn't always the right way. And so that's definitely something that I learned is just speak up, be confident in your decision if you do or don't think that you're able to go at 100 percent."

While most WNBA players went overseas in the offseason to supplement their salaries, Ionescu opted to stay in the United States and dedicated herself to rehabbing the injury -- the first major one of her playing career. As part of the process, she embraced different ways to get better that didn't involve as much contact and pounding on her ankle, such as swimming, stretching and yoga.

The work and patience paid dividends. After not really being able to participate in training camp entering 2021, that won't be the case this year.

"It's also unselfish [to take care of your body]," Ionescu said. "It's not fair to the team if I'm not playing at 100 percent and able to give them everything that I have. So I'm able to do that now and excited to just get to work and continue to get better every day."

Ionescu said she sees this year as a bit of a career reset. That will be the case for the Liberty as a whole, as they parted ways with former coach Walt Hopkins in the offseason and brought in former Mercury coach Sandy Brondello to replace him. In terms of personnel, the Liberty brought in 2021 WNBA champion Stefanie Dolson from Chicago, while Asia Durr and Han Xu, who haven't played in the WNBA since 2019, are back in Liberty training camp.

But there is little doubt that a healthy Ionescu leading the way gives the Liberty a much better shot at a deep playoff run this summer.

"Obviously having Sabrina healthy, it's a difference," 2021 All-Star Betnijah Laneysaid. "She's able to move the way she would like to move on the court. She's been vocal, getting us into our actions and everything. So we're excited to have her back. We're excited to have her healthy for training camp and the season and to have everybody come together and look good."