Melbourne Boomers and Opals forward Ezi Magbegor has joined Australian teammate Alanna Smith in the WNBA, being selected by defending champions Seattle with the 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft.
Magbegor becomes the first Australian taken from a WNBL side, since Minnesota selected Sydney Uni Flames point guard Tahlia Tupaea with the final pick of the 2017 draft. Magbegor also becomes the fifth Australian drafted to the Storm in WNBA history, following Lauren Jackson, Alison Lacey, Katrina Hibbert, and Suzy Batkovic to the Emerald City.
The selection ensures that 2019 is the first WNBA draft since 2014 in which two Australians have been selected, when Carley Mijovic (pick 30, Washington) and Steph Talbot (pick 33, Phoenix) both heard their names called.
Although Magbegor is clearly a rising talent in the game, Seattle possesses a fairly settled roster that returns much of a championship lineup, and Storm coach Dan Hughes was eager to point out that Magbegor’s selection is more about the future than the present.
“No, I think there’s going to be a little bit of time, honestly, before we ask her to make an immediate impact, but I think she will. I guess it’s just a matter of time, but the draft pick was not about today, it’s a little bit about the future.”
As to whether Magbegor will be part of the roster immediately, Hughes remained non-committal, stating, “That’s not been determined. We’ll discuss that, we’ll figure out what’s best for her.”
The Australian starlet echoed those sentiments in discussing her selection following the draft.
“Obviously there’s room for my development over the next few months, so that’s where I’m at at the moment. In terms of my development, I definitely want to improve my perimeter game and my shooting game as well - my three-point shot, and just be powerful and ready for the WNBA.”
At pick #12, Magbegor becomes the highest selection of a WNBL player since Liz Cambage was taken at #2 in 2011 by the Tulsa Shock. The selection caps a frenetic 18-month period for the Melbourne Boomers star, who has picked up a Commonwealth Games gold medal and World Cup silver, whilst also turning down the chance to play college basketball for, among others, national powerhouse UConn in order to chase her WNBA dream this year. Hughes was on the coaching staff of the US team that defeated the Opals in that World Cup gold medal game, but Magbegor was one player who caught his eye.
“I was on the US team at the World Cup, and what I saw was a developing player that had special gifts and had a really good mind as I got to know her. But I think she needs to continue her development. You know, being in the AIS and the way she’s been coached has been very profitable. But she’s 19 years old.
“I drafted Penny Taylor when she was 19 and I know it’s important that she continues to work at her game with enthusiasm. But I think she’s very, very close to being a player who can make a mark in the WNBA. She’s close. She’s very close.
“I think she’s got potential to be a very good player in the WNBA. But I also think she’s 19 years old at that point. But when I talked to her I had flashbacks to 2001 when I was talking to Penny Taylor, and how I felt about Penny coming over to play for us and Penny became a star fairly quickly. But if she keeps the trail she’s on, she’s got a chance to become a WNBA player of impact.”
That effect of that experience of playing at the World Cup, and in particular being on court with elite professionals on both sides, is not lost on Magbegor.
“I think experience is definitely important coming in. I’ve played with women that have been playing professional basketball for a while, and playing with them and against them has definitely given me an advantage, and I’ve learnt from them.
“Going up against people who are a lot more physical and stronger than I am will definitely help me coming into the WNBA.”
Magbegor has long been regarded as one of the future stars of not only the Australian game, but women’s basketball in general. Having burst onto the international scene as a 15-year-old at the Under 19 World Championship in 2015, Magbegor then secured MVP at the Under 17 World Cup in 2016 as the Sapphires handed the USA their first defeat in tournament history in the semi-finals, before dominating Italy in the gold medal game.
Magbegor then made her WNBL debut with the UC Capitals before joining the Melbourne Boomers for the most recent season. Despite some injury troubles, the Opals forward managed to average 8.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in her 14 games as the Boomers reached the WNBL semi-finals before falling to Adelaide. Having rightly or wrongly been compared to Lauren Jackson in some parts, those comparisons will only gain momentum as Magbegor attempts to become another in a long line of Australians that have made their WNBA home in Seattle. However, Magbegor is determined to ensure that the public is aware that she is her own player with her own playing style.
“I think it’s really important [to carve out an identity]. Obviously, Lauren has had an amazing career and she’s done amazing things for Australian basketball and she’s been someone I’ve looked up to over my basketball career.
“But I think it’s important to say, you know, we are two different players, and I’m really excited to show the world and the WNBA my type of game and the player and person that I am.”
Even if Magbegor does not immediately link up with the Storm, their roster won’t be without Aussie representation in 2019. Former Perth Lynx star and Opals World Cup squad member Sami Whitcomb has been a member of the Storm roster since 2017 and is set to link up with the team again in 2019. Whitcomb will be fresh off a season starring in France with Basket Lattes Montpellier, with the team finishing as runners-up in EuroCup and French League playoffs commencing on April 17.