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Sabrina Ionescu, Ducks mourn the loss of Kobe Bryant

Sabrina Ionescu and the Oregon Ducks women’s basketball team had a close bond with NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter accident on Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four-Semifinals-Oregon vs Baylor
Sabrina Ionescu has dedicated the 2020 season to Kobe Bryant.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Sabrina Ionescu had the chance to enter the 2019 WNBA Draft after her junior season with the Oregon Ducks. She decided to return for her senior year of college because last year’s team lost in the Final Four and she felt she had “unfinished business.”

Now Ionescu is playing for something bigger than basketball.

On Sunday afternoon, news hit that Los Angeles Laker great Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven others had been killed in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles. Gigi, who had aspirations to play for the UConn Huskies, was on her way to basketball practice. The tragedy hit Oregon hard, as the team was preparing for a critical road game against the Oregon State Beavers. It hit Ionescu, who is a member of Kobe’s “mamba” club, the hardest.

Kobe gave himself the “Mamba” nickname because of his “killer mentality” being comparable to that of the deadly snake. Bryant went on to pass the nickname to WNBA great Diana Taurasi and later Notre Dame star Arike Ogunbowale before placing it on Ionescu, who has the most triple-doubles in NCAA Division I history and has a chance to become the first college player to ever reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

Ionescu saw Kobe as a mentor, but their relationship became deeper than just that. Because Gigi was so into basketball, Bryant would travel around the country to women’s basketball games with her, and Oregon was one of his favorite spots because of Ionescu’s passion and inspiring leadership.

Against Oregon State on Sunday, Ionescu played with a heavy heart and scored 19 points in a 66-57 win over the Beavers. When asked about Bryant’s passing in a post-game interview she said: “this season’s for him.”