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Sabrina Ionescu to Kobe Bryant: 'I only have one choice — to live out your legacy'

Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu became close with Kobe Bryant, his family and the youth team he coached. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu posted a moving set of photos with a message to her mentor Kobe Bryant on Saturday, telling him “I only have one choice, to live out your legacy.”

Ionescu addressed on Instagram her relationship with Bryant, a close confidant as she rose to the 2019 Wooden Award and likely No. 1 pick in that year’s WNBA draft if she had chosen to leave the Ducks. She instead stayed and has Oregon in a position to take its first NCAA championship.

The graduate student also addressed Bryant’s daughter, Gigi, and her two Mamba Academy teammates, Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli. The teens were on the helicopter with parents and an assistant coach on their way to a game when it crashed Sunday, shortly before a premier game for Ionescu.

Ionescu wrote:

“I miss you guys more than I could ever put into words. Kobe, thank you for being a source of light in the midst of darkness. You were and always will be my sanctuary. You brought me the peace and guidance that I had been searching, and praying so long for. You were my mentor, idol, inspiration, and close friend. A part of me was lost Sunday, a void that can never be filled, because you are one of one. You took me under your wing and believed in me more than I believed in myself. I only have one choice. To live out your legacy. You will forever live through me, and be watching over me every step of the way, because you have the best seat in the house. I can still hear you telling me, “Sab, real sharpness comes without effort,” and that’s a voice I will never forget. Love you boss. Always.

Gigi, Alyssa and Pay Pay-

Never stop shining your light! I was blessed to have been apart of your lives and to inspire you, but now you inspire me. Keep working on those fade away jumpers up in heaven. RIP little mambas

I pray for everyone who lost a loved one on Sunday, may God heal your broken hears. Legends never die!”

Ionescu, 22, shared photos from a training day with Bryant and the Mamba Academy team. In one, she’s taking direction from Bryant. In another, she and Gigi, a rising star with her father as coach, are standing with the same stance awaiting their next move.

Bryant, an advocate for the women’s game in retirement, took Gigi and friends to an Oregon game last year and visited the team in the locker room.

“Kobe was actually a close personal friend with Sabrina,” Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said last week. “They struck up a friendship the last couple years. Kobe and his family, they’re communicating (with her) several times a week.

“It's like losing a family member [for Ionescu]," he added.

Ionescu was getting ready to take the court last Sunday for the second of back-to-back games against Oregon State in the Civil War rivalry when she learned of the crash. She stayed in the locker room during warm-ups and came out for an emotional pre-game moment with “Forever 24 <3” on her sneakers.

In a lovely father-daughter moment, her dad, Dan, took to Twitter to thank everyone for showing respect.

In a post-game interview following the win — her first at Gill Coliseum in her four-year career — she said this season was for Bryant.

Ionescu posted the tribute hours before No. 3 Oregon (18-2, 8-1 Pac-12) tipped off against Colorado on Sunday. The Ducks are off to Hartford, Connecticut, to play a featured non-conference game against No. 4 Connecticut on ESPN’s Big Monday.

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