The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, April 22, 2020

Basketball never stops — Sabrina Ionescu interview — Must-click women's basketball links

Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. In this moment, freelance budgets are being cut, reporters are losing their jobs. Women’s sports always bears the brunt of that first.

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Basketball never stops

(Let’s start here: the Muffet McGraw news is seismic, and I’ll have a LOT more on it next week. I am sad to see her go, and her legacy is enormous. Much more to come.)

But I want to take you back to late on the evening of Friday, April 17. It was nearing midnight here on the east coast, where I am coming to you inside my global pandemic bunker.

For Kitija Laksa, it was nearing 5 AM in Latvia, where she took the time to chat after getting selected with the eleventh overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

“It was a long day for me,” Laksa said. “Woke up pretty early, worked out, had a couple errands to run before heading back home and just meeting up with my family, my mom, my dad, my brother was here, my sister-in-law, my nephew, so we just spent the day together at home, had a nice lunch, had a nice dinner, just enjoyed each other’s company and waited for the draft. Needed to do some things to just set up and be ready for the draft, some media stuff and things like that. It really has been a very, very long day. What is it, like — I’ve been up like the last 22, 21 hours, so I am tired, but I’m happy. I’m happy that I’m a part of the Seattle Storm. It’s definitely been worth it.”

The Laksa journey lasted a bit longer into the night than for the other draft picks back here in the states, and her return here to play basketball — something she expressed excitement about experiencing — will wait as well, beyond even the current holding pattern the sport, and really, every activity involving groups of people larger than a family, are in right now.

But you cannot just turn off the competitive juices of the people in women’s basketball. The sport, what you’re seeing of it, the public competition, that’s on pause. The remarkable figures on the court, on the sideline coaching, in the general manager’s offices — they’re not slowing down a bit.

One WNBA talent evaluator I spoke to was already breaking down film on potential 2021 draft picks. Another wondered how the league would navigate draft order if the 2020 season is either truncated significantly or doesn’t happen. The league’s top pick, Sabrina Ionescu, was already gaming out her path to the 2021 Olympics.

That progress we’ve all been seeing, the game getting better seemingly every day: that’s not stopping, even in this moment of suspended animation.

Even in Latvia, as the sun peaked out and the next day began before Kitija Laksa ever properly ended the previous one, the process of improving continued.

“Obviously the shot is my main weapon, but I’ve been working on the overall game, just being able to attack off the dribble, use the pick-and-rolls better, just set my team up, find the open player and open pass,” Laksa said. “I actually feel better, more confident and quicker than I’ve ever been, and I mean, I’m excited. I’m excited to return to the States. I’ve missed it. I’ve missed America. I’ve missed the basketball there, just the people and friends I left in the States, so I’m very excited for the opportunity.”

Multiply this by every player, coach and executive in women’s basketball. The game is paused. The work continues.

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Nathan Hiatt hops in a time machine and takes us to Brittney Griner’s draft night.

Calvin Wetzel looks at how players are staying in basketball shape.

Alex Schiffler has details of Kobe Bryant’s last WNBA minicamp, two weeks before he died.

Jenn Hatfield breaks down what Tina Charles brings to the Mystics.

Great longform Jackie Powell on the dawning of a new New York Liberty era.

PJ Brown catches you up on Trinity Baptiste, newest Arizona Wildcat.

Loved this Doug Feinberg video on the draft war rooms.

Charlotte Carroll looks at Crystal Dangerfield’s evolution.

Great Gene Wang look at Tina Charles to the Mystics.

ESPNW breaks down the outfits for some prominent WNBA Draft picks.

Great Natalie Weiner story on Chennedy Carter.

Listen to Napheesa Collier, at the No Sports Podcast, describe coronavirus life.

Alexa Philippou has your Connecticut-centric draft recap. I agree with Curt, hard to argue the Sun’s 3-4-5.

Danielle Lerner spent draft night on the Louisville Zoom.

Listen to Stella Johnson react to getting drafted.

Lauren Manis has a unique road to WNBA Draft night, Greg Levinsky writes.

The Fieldhouse, full of Indiana basketball writers I love, is covering the Fever now.

Paolo Uggetti caught up with Ruthy Hebard. (Click on this to let The Ringer know it should cover women’s basketball on a more regular basis!)

Mike Jensen on Stella Johnson is wonderful, of course.

Loved this inside look at Cathy Engelbert’s draft night.

Tamera Young joined the Knuckleheads podcast.

And Rebecca Lobo chatted with John Liddle on HerHoopStats’ podcast.

Tim Cato breaks down the Dallas Wings’ roster situation.

And Huw Hopkins looks at two members of that roster who happen to be sisters.

I broke down the draft by grades and by single stat category improved.

Mitchell Northam has a wbb newsletter! Check it out, he’s terrific.

The Houston Chronicle caught up with Erica Ogwumike.

Richard Cohen projects salary caps for the Eastern Conference.

It’s going to be really easy for Indiana Fever fans to root for Lauren Cox.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Sabrina Ionescu

These were, I thought, the most interesting answers Sabrina gave from both a Friday post-draft interview by phone, and another on Monday via Zoom.

Q. When you look at the Liberty offense, what excites you most about joining Walt Hopkins’ system, and how will it feel to play with Asia Durr and Kia Nurse?
SABRINA IONESCU: They have great guards there, with their ability to shoot and spread the floor out, but also run in transition. Walt runs a great offense. The pick-and-roll is something that I’m familiar with. Being able to enter an offense where it’s been really similar to what I’ve been playing with the last four years is exciting. I’m just excited to continue to grow my game in that aspect.

Q. How are you looking forward to making an impact in a city that is a haven for social justice and overall just community philanthropy?
SABRINA IONESCU: I’m going to use my platform and do everything I can. Obviously, it starts with basketball, hoping to get people to buy into the team and show up to games. But just using our platform as a women’s basketball player to do more than just that. I’m excited to stand for something more than just being a basketball player in that city and using it for a bigger purpose.

Q. What would you tell your younger self about this day?
SABRINA IONESCU: That it’s worth it. I guess that it’s worth all the long nights, early mornings of going in and doing all the extra work. This is really what it’s all about. I’m so excited for this opportunity, but not settling here. I’m just excited to continue evolving my game and doing more.

Q: There’s obviously been a lot of conversation about Oregon and South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. I wonder if there’s any doubt in your mind that if you guys have had the chance, that you would have won.

SABRINA IONESCU: Personally, I don’t think we were going to lose again going forward. I think there was enough fire inside of me and inside of the team that I think I could stand here pretty confidently, and say that if we had the opportunity, we would win a national championship. I mean, not discrediting any of the other teams, but I was excited to be able to play them and had a lot of confidence in our team, our abilities, I think we were peaking at the right time and, I mean, the PAC-12 tournament showed that.

Q: With the changing timeline, with the Olympics, now that we’re looking at 2021 instead of 2020. I’m wondering how that changes your thinking about it and how much that is central to your goals going forward.

SABRINA IONESCU: I think it’s going to be beneficial. I think just the fact that I’m going to be able to play in such a competitive league against such competitive players, and then see where I stand against that I think it’s going to give me a better chance at the Olympics, hopefully the 5-on-5 team or the 3-on-3 team and so I’m just excited to kind of go through that year and gauge where I am against some of the top players in the world and be able to see what I need to improve on and continue to get better. But I think the time is definitely in my favor.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala,@ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.