At the age of 19, a young Australian with big dreams faced a life-changing decision.
It was a proverbial fork in the road moment, one that has become a familiar tale within Australian basketball circles. Stay inside the college system and adhere to traditional means of making it within the global basketball ecosystem, or forgo the NCAA, return home and trust that the growing Australian professional scene will fuel a professional return to North America.
This was Will Magnay’s dilemma in late 2017. The Queensland native was forced to contextualise his basketball career, at an age where most are merely bouncing from weekend to weekend. Coming off an impressive freshman season with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, logic dictated that Magnay would return to college for a sophomore campaign. He was established as a starting calibre five man in the American Athletic Conference. He was poised to further excel within an amateur environment. There was, however, a grander mandate on his mind.
With an NBA dream so clearly articulated, Magnay jumped away from the traditional pathway used for making the Association. Just weeks before his second season in Tulsa was due to commence, Magnay signed his first professional contract with the Brisbane Bullets. With that, his amateur status was gone and his collegiate career was over.
It was a decision that Magnay had to make. It set off a chain of events that have come to define the infancy of his professional career. It was a complex process, albeit one fuelled by a simple motive: how could Magnay earn his place in the NBA? With such foresight driving him forward, Magnay’s sliding doors moment led him back to Australian shores.
“The biggest factor was that I want to play in the NBA when I am older,” Magnay explained of his decision to leave Tulsa.
“My thinking was that I have three years left in college, or I have a three-year deal on offer from the Brisbane Bullets. In talking with my family and close friends, they would question me on whether I would be better developed after three years in a professional league or three years in college.
“I came to the decision, based on the skill development that I could receive with playing for the Bullets. The decision had nothing to do with coaching or anything over in America. It was strictly a developmental based decision."
Magnay played in every game as a college freshman at Tulsa, starting 13 contests, and leading the Golden Hurricane in blocked shots. On a team devoid of upper-class men, Magnay was offered an abundance of playing time against the highest level of competition he had ever experienced. It was a transformative experience and a great educational tool. “Living in a different country and playing a different style of basketball was a great lesson,” Magnay says.
This American style of play – one which emphasises athleticism and carries a higher tempo than the Australian youth circuit – favoured Magnay. It suited his fast twitch tendencies more than he could have imagined. The experience, as fleeting as it was, provided a basketball education that no classroom could match. “That really was the biggest thing I took away with the American style of play: how much faster it is,” Magnay says.
Off the court, Magnay adapted to life away from his homeland. Having moved to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) at age 16, he had a trial run with living away from family and friends. While Magnay acknowledges his AIS experienced helped ease the transition into living alone in a foreign country, there remained much self-discovery to be undertaken whist at Tulsa.
“I discovered that I have to put myself out there more, make new friends and be more outgoing than I was,” Magnay explained. “It definitely extroverted me and I am thankful for that. Now being in a professional environment, you need to talk and communicate with teammates and coaches. Being away and being forced into situations like that definitely helped me a lot.”
Magnay’s resiliency grew through his time in Tulsa and this trait was immediately called upon in the NBL. By his own admission, Magnay’s first two seasons with the Bullet’s didn’t go to plan. An unfortunate bout of glandular fever derailed Magnay’s rookie season and limited him to just six appearances. Even when healthy during his second campaign, Magnay struggled to displace the Bullets’ veteran-laden front court rotation, as the franchise prioritised experience on their march back to the NBL playoffs. All told, Magnay played just 81 minutes during his first two NBL seasons as he adjusted to the realities of life in a professional league.
“The competitive side of the NBL was a big difference to college,” Magnay says. “People are training to get minutes, so they can get better jobs and get paid next year. That was the biggest eye opener for me: just how hard people compete in practice every day and also the skill level of players. Even players who aren’t the most athletic, they can score and their knowledge of the game is much higher.”
By the end of the 2018/19 NBL season, Magnay was fully exposed to the realities of his professional life. Two basketball seasons had flown past, and with only a handful of NBL minutes under his belt, it was time to focus on his dream once more. That required an offseason makeover. With an assist from the Brisbane coaching staff, the Queensland native emphasised the improvements needed to make his third NBL season a breakout campaign.
“This offseason I sat down with the Bullets coaching staff and they put everything on a platter for me,” Magnay says. “They explained that I needed to have a good offseason. Now the biggest improvement I can feel is with my body, because I have put a lot of work into getting stronger and fitter.
The payoff has been clear and obvious. A healthier Magnay has emerged as a bona fide NBL rotation player this season, and that is likely selling him short. Magnay reintroduced himself to the NBL with an impressive performance during the NBL Blitz in September. A dominant first up showing against an NBL1 All-Stars turned heads, and it ultimately set the tone for what has followed during the first two months of the season proper.
Magnay is averaging 20 minutes a night for Andrej Lemanis. He has found consistency in performance for the first time since leaving Tulsa. Time spent working on his body this winter is paying off. Always a talented athlete, Magnay is harnessing physical gifts, with his 208 centimetre frame now infused the strength and endurance needed to make him a constant threat at the NBL level.
Magnay is unquestionably in the best shape of his life. He is being rewarded for an offseason spent toiling away in the lower levels of Australian basketball.
“Playing with the Brisbane Capitals in the NBL offseason helped me grow and learn how to play under fatigue,” Magnay says. “There were games where I was fatigued and looking for a sub, but the coaching staff looked at me and said ‘nah, mate, figure it out.’ That helped me a lot with knowing how to perform under fatigue.
“The biggest thing is my body. Being healthy allows me to be more athletic. There is still a lot of development to go. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of my potential in my career and I am very excited with where I am going."
Magnay’s dreams are large and with such clear millennial spirit, he knows where the ultimate goal resides, but that is nothing new. It was present even before the decision to leave Tulsa was made. While set as the flagpole, the NBA isn’t something that enters Magnay’s daily routine. The task is more granular than that. It is all about working every day and taking care of business, and the Bullets provide him with the perfect surroundings for this part of his professional journey. As a child of Brisbane, Magnay is savouring every moment of his current situation.
“I am from Brisbane and have lots of family and friends here,” Magnay says. “I love playing, so being able to represent my home city and play in front of my family is pretty special. I love playing so having some regular minutes where I can compete is awesome.”
Magnay’s focus is firmly planted on mastering the present day with his hometown team. He is established as one of the NBL’s breakout players and gaining confidence with each passing week. He is changing the tenor of his professional career, and that is taking Magnay closer to his goal. Long overlooked and overmatched, those days are now a thing of the past.
There is no more hiding Will Magnay from the basketball universe now.