Female Basketball Players Who Are Paving The Way

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By Cindy Yang

Everyone has heard of NBA legends Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan—two basketball greats who have practically become household names. Millions of fanatics worldwide obsess over the NBA: NBA Finals tickets sell out every year and NBA merchandise garners millions of dollars in annual revenue. However, the same cannot be said about the WNBA or women’s basketball in general. Women basketball players across the nation strive to reverse that narrative and bring attention to the sport of women’s basketball. Two phenoms in particular have set the stage for a new era and have attracted immense national attention to the sport. Meet Hopkins High School senior Paige Bueckers and University of Oregon senior Sabrina Ionescu—two powerful forces who may just be the weapons that the NCAA and WNBA need to usher in a new fanbase for this rapidly evolving era of women’s basketball.

Paige Bueckers

Paige Bueckers stands proud and tall at 5’11, as she is ranked the number one female high school basketball player nationally this year. In fact, she is regarded as one of the best female high school basketball players of all time—and deservingly so. This senior guard has it all: effortless three-point shooting, tactical passing from all areas of the court, and an incredible style of play. Not only is Bueckers a great player statistically, but she is also an incredibly captivating player to watch. She has a unique swag in the way she carries herself on the court that makes her likeable and entertaining; the fans never get tired of seeing her play. During her junior season, she carried her team, the Hopkins Royals, to a state championship title, averaging an impressive 24.4 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.6 steals. She was on her way to possibly win another state title this season until the state championship game was cancelled due to the coronavirus. This was especially unfortunate for her, as her whole team went undefeated that season, setting an amazing win streak that has carried into their current season of 62 straight wins.

Bueckers has been honored with many awards and titles, most notably being named Gatorade’s coveted Player of the Year for girls’ basketball. In addition, she was the first girls’ high school basketball player ever to be featured on a SLAM magazine cover, a magazine that has featured basketball stars such as Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry.

Her fanbase consists mostly of children and teenagers, many who ask for autographs game after game. When asked about her rising popularity, Bueckers said, “I was a kid once, and I know how I looked up to older girls, so I’ll do sign autographs every time.”

Next season, Bueckers will play for the University of Connecticut’s elite basketball team, the UConn Huskies, which has already won 11 NCAA championships. Though she admits that she’s nervous about meeting the high expectations set for her, her success at the high school level will serve her well as she transitions to college basketball.

Sabrina Ionescu

Sabrina Ionescu is a senior guard at the University of Oregon, whose popularity has skyrocketed throughout her tenure representing the Oregon Ducks.

Ionescu was the first NCAA player in history—regardless of gender—to score 2,000 points, 1,000 assists, and 1,000 rebounds, an exceptional achievement that many thought would take decades for female basketball players to accomplish. According to Chiney Ogwumike of the Connecticut Sun, Ionescu is special because she has an “excellent feel for the game, play[s at] her own tempo, and has the ‘That's So Raven’ ability to see the future.” Her relentless work ethic shows a lot of grit and will to achieve perfection in every shot and pass. According to Kelly Graves, who is her coach: “Sometimes, [we] literally have to pull her off the court. Otherwise, she has to be there. All the time. All out.” Her hard work has surely paid off: throughout her time as an Oregon Duck, she has averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 assists, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. In her senior season, she improved her assists to 9.1 per game, about four more than her freshman season, in which she averaged 5.5 assists per game.

Furthermore, she has won many accolades during her career at Oregon. She was honored as the PAC-12 Conference Player of the Year three times, awarded the Wade Trophy twice, and named Naismith Player of the Year.

Ionescu was so talented that many thought she would opt to enter the WNBA draft after her junior season. However, she decided to continue playing at Oregon her senior year, in hopes of winning the NCAA Championship with her team. This goal was especially important for them, since they were so close the previous season. Unfortunately, the NCAA Championship was cancelled due to coronavirus, leading to the bittersweet end of Ionescu's illustrious college basketball career.

Ionescu’s story is far from over. She still has a lot to show going into the next stage of her basketball career: the WNBA. She is projected to be first pick in this year’s draft, in which most predict she will be taken by the city of the Big Apple, the New York Liberty. The future is bright for this young star as she will undoubtedly take the WNBA by storm.