Friday, August 14th, 2020

Highly touted Seattle Storm rookie Ezi Magbegor ready to begin her WNBA career

Published on July 12, 2020

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When Seattle Storm rookie forward Ezi Magbegor was nearly two years old, a fellow Australian Lauren Jackson became the first pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft. Selected by the Storm, Jackson, a 19-year-old phenom, went on to have a storied career with the league and the Australian national team, the Opals.

While Jackson began her WNBA career, a young Magbegor, who was born in Wellington, New Zealand, fell in love with basketball after two of her older siblings picked up the game.

“I just followed them and wanted to photocopy what they did,” said the young star during a videoconference with media on Sunday. Her family moved to Melbourne, Australia when she was five.

Now, 19 years after Jackson entered the league, Magbegor arrives as a 20-year-old talent drafted by Seattle as the 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft. She delayed her start in the WNBA to get more experience under her belt as she continued to play in Australia’s pro league, the WNBL.

She also turned down an offer to play at NCAA women’s basketball powerhouse UConn when she was still playing as an amateur in the WNBL. Declining UConn allowed her to turn pro overseas.

“Ultimately, I think I wanted to get that exposure and be able to play against professionals,” Magbegor said of her decision to stay home.

Along the way to the WNBA, she earned a spot on the Opals, where she had the opportunity to play against the U.S. National Team in the final of the 2018 FIBA World Cup. She scored 6.0 points and grabbed 4.0 rebounds against the USA and averaged 7.6 points and 3.8 rebounds per game during the tournament.

Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello, who is also the Opals head coach, calls Magbegor “the future” of the Opals.

“She’s a great player, she’s special, she’s unique, and that’s what we need. [The Opals] are all different, they are all versatile, but Ezi gives us something different that we don’t have,” Brondello said after Magbegor lead the Opals in a game against China last fall.

She had a long journey from Australia to Florida. A trip that included a stop in Seattle to join the Storm before the team arrived at IMG Academy in Bradenton. The last time she played competitively was in February for the Melbourne Boomers. Known for her athleticism and strength, Magbegor is excited to play with Seattle but admits “being in the WNBA is, you know, a whole different game.”

It was a hard decision for her to choose to come overseas, given the risks due to the coronavirus pandemic. She said she relied on the advice of fellow Australian WNBA players, including Rebecca Allen, in deciding whether to play in the U.S. this season. However, Allen chose to opt out of the season, citing the “uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis and the logistical health risks related to travel.”

In addition to playing this summer, Magbegor will also juggle studying and completing coursework for a degree in commerce from Deakin University. She says her immediate goal with the Storm during training camp is to learn and watch “the starting players in my position on the team.”

Gary Kloppenburg, who takes over this summer as Storm head coach while Dan Hughes sits out for medical reasons, calls Magbegor “an intriguing player” and complimented her ability to learn quickly.

“She’s really athletic,” Kloppenburg said. “She’s advanced. I mean, I know she’s had some really good coaching down there in Australia with Sandy on the national team, and so she’s farther along. I mean, she’s a young player, but, you know, I can imagine if she played in college, she’d be one of the top players. You know, a top-five player coming out of college.”

The Spaulding brand also recognized the promise of Magbegor. In February, she signed a two-year endorsement deal with Spalding. She is the “first-ever female basketball ambassador for the sports brand globally.”

Teams are set to participate in virtual media days this week in between training camp practices. The Storm’s media day is scheduled for Wednesday, July 15.


 

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