The Liberty selected Sabrina Ionescu with the No. 1 overall pick in the W.N.B.A. draft on Friday, kicking off a refashioned “virtual” event for a league that has, like most sports around the world, been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The infusion of Ionescu and her star power into the W.N.B.A. comes amid a period of challenges and renewed promise for the 23-year-old league. An elite point guard at the University of Oregon, Ionescu became the first No. 1 pick under a new collective bargaining agreement that significantly increased player salaries and promised additional investment in marketing. And she will join the Liberty just as the New York franchise is resetting its ownership, its roster and even its logo.
“I saw some of the media coverage in New York today,” W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said on Friday, responding to a question about Ionescu’s potential impact on the league’s footprint. “A big priority of mine is to focus on marketing the league and our players. Driving household names and engaging them with fans in a different way is a thing we’re continuing to work on.”
But the new reality is on pause, after Engelbert announced this month that both the April 26 reporting date for training camp and the May 15 start of the regular season had been postponed indefinitely.
Whenever the season does begin, a number of elite college talents will enter the league. Bella Alarie of Princeton and Lauren Cox of Baylor, each 6-foot-4, can protect the rim and shoot from anywhere, while Chennedy Carter of Texas A&M and Tyasha Harris of South Carolina will hold down point-guard duties for many years to come.
Engelbert greeted the draft picks via videoconference on ESPN, as she and the league’s newest players were homebound during an experience that is the stuff of childhood dreams. Engelbert said she had repurposed a drying rack as a display case for the new jerseys displayed during the draft.
Though details like how and when the league will return remain unknown, Engelbert said: “We have our bright spot tonight. I’ve had a lot of fun, and challenges, transforming a room in my house.”