Young Guns in the WNBL – Ezi Magbegor

JUST over a year ago, Eziyoda Magbegor felt like she was on top of the world, being called as the 12th pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft to the three-time champions, Seattle Storm.

A year on from that, ‘Ezi’ now awaits the upcoming 2020/21 season, as it was announced that she had been picked to the 12-player roster for the Storm’s upcoming fixtures.

Having to hear the news that she had been drafted back in 2019 here in Australia, all Magbegor could feel was a sense of relief, which would then be overcome with emotion, as she was surrounded by loved ones and friends such as her parents Patience (mother) and Appolus (father), as well as agent Bruce Kaider.

“I think I felt a lot of emotions, but I think relief was probably the main one I can remember,” reflected Magbegor. “Leading up to that point, that was one of my biggest goals, to be drafted to the WNBA.”

“On draft day, things are pretty up in the air until your name gets called,” added Magbegor. “You don’t know where you’re going to land, but having my name called in the first round, that was pretty amazing.”

For Magbegor right now, however, she is spoiled for choice in terms of offseason training programs from both the trainers at the Seattle Storm and the Australian Opals, as she tries to navigate through what has been a “different offseason than usual”, according to the 20-year-old, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’ve been able to do things at home such as bodyweight workouts, running programs on the grass, getting to an outdoor court and just hooping in my backyard. I even have a running track behind my house,” said Magbegor.

This diligence and dedication to her craft was instilled in the Wellington-born star at a young age, becoming involved in sport early on in her life.

After moving to Australia at the age of five and starting basketball at seven, handling the rock was not Magbegor’s immediate interest, but shortly after crossing the Tasman, it wasn’t long until Magbegor fell in love with the game.

“When I was in New Zealand, I played soccer, not very seriously, but more to keep myself active with my older siblings,” said Magbegor.

“How I got into basketball was, I went to Oak Park Primary School where my sister (Elo) did singing, and her singing coach owned a domestic basketball club called the Northern Rebels at Coburg. So, after my brother (Ovie) started playing, I started playing shortly after that.”

Fast forward to 2015 and Magbegor would make her international debut in the green and gold as a 16-year-old, breaking down barriers left, right and centre. Move further along to the end of 2017, and she would receive her first Opals selection to a national training camp, thus resulting in her first official appearance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Following an exemplary list of international accomplishments and a season with the Canberra Capitals, Magbegor would make her back down to Victoria under the guidance of Melbourne Boomers Head Coach, Guy Molloy, where at first, the two-time WNBL Coach of the Year mentioned he saw lots of potential.

“She’s an absolute sponge to want to learn and improve!” praised Molloy. “She has been dominant through her progression in Australian hoops due to her athleticism and physical gifts, and as we begin to turn her into a real basketballer, we’re going to see a hell of a player emerge.”

Although some of her game seemed unrefined at first, mentioned Molloy, he feels that she has made significant improvements to her game, namely her defense and shooting.

Because of these changes, she is to be well-prepared for her rookie season in the US, as she is now well equipped to face top-level talent overseas.

“She was naïve defensively when she began,” said Molloy. “Where she’s going in the WNBA, defense definitely needs to be a forte, but she has improved significantly with most aspects of her defense and she is now a lot better than where she started.”

“The second major thing was when she got to the Boomers, we really broke down and restructured her shot with the long-term intention to add a legitimate three-ball to her game because that’s the demand for what a modern power-forward needs to do, which she has certainly done. Now she’s starting to find the touch in confidence, as each season goes by to make that a bigger part of her game,” added the Boomers’ gaffer.

Not only has Molloy gone on to respect Magbegor’s game, but as a person and a professional, he has formed what he thinks is a very “strong” relationship with her, says the Melbourne coach. According to the 54-year-old, if he could sign Magbegor to an “ultra-long-term deal with the Boomers” he would, as he loves to coach her.

Zitina Aokuso, the Townsville Fire’s current Forward/Center for the side, played a season with the fellow frontcourt star in Geelong during the 2019 NBL1 season, where the two rekindled an old on-court partnership from when they were back in Canberra.

Aokuso was able to express to Draft Central what it’s like to be a peer of Magbegor’s.

“I think Magbegor is a hardworking and selfless player! She’s a very humble person on and off the court,” said Aokuso. “Playing alongside Magbegor has always been a great experience, she always pushes me to be a better player. “And playing against her is always a great competitive experience.”

Coming off Magbegor’s second season with the purple and gold, the Boomers would make the semi-finals for their third consecutive season.

For Magbegor, it was a tale of two halves in her 2019/20 campaign, but feels finding good long-term rhythm through a season is one of her primary objectives in order to continue developing to her fullest extent.

“Consistency is definitely one thing that I’m aiming to improve on,” said Magbegor. “I had a better second half of the season than the first half, but I definitely aimed to keep improving on being more aggressive when I got the ball and just being more of a scoring option for my team.”

Other little things to continue working on, like for instance running the floor, helped her side to a 16-5 record, thus securing second spot in the season standings. Following this, it would cap off a season nothing short of a success for Magbegor.

After a season averaging 13 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, while maintaining a conversion rate of more than half her field goal attempts (52.1 per cent), the WNBL would bestow Magbegor with the Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year Award (two-time recipient).

While Magbegor and the Boomers would ultimately go down to the eventual champions UC Capitals, she feels that the team that is to be set up for next season, is a real chance to take the club’s quest for a championship in almost a decade (Bulleen Boomers of 2011) to the next level.

“We’re pretty lucky we’ve kept a lot of our core group together, and a lot of us have experienced that grand final loss (2017/18), so we know what it takes to get there,” said Magbegor.

“Now we’re all in that position to go that one step further and win a championship, but going forward there’s still a lot we need to work on as a team.”

In saying this, Magbegor knows that the team did a lot of things right last season, but the first step in any successful campaign, is a good preseason.

With leaders like Cayla George and Maddy Garrick being the team’s backbone come November, the Boomers are always a good chance to push for a title.

However, whether or not the Boomers can make that next step come to fruition, time will tell. But for Magbegor, the next step is her rookie season in the WNBA with Seattle, as she awaits the next steps regarding travels over to the States.

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