Before the 2017/18 WNBL season tipped off, Centre of Excellence alum Ezi Magbegor was widely expected to be the league's leading rookie and her first season at pro level was no disappointment.
An improbably athletic big with an advanced feel for the game and an even-keeled temperament, she recorded averages of 6.6 points and 3.75 rebounds a game in less than 13 minutes of court time each night.
She found out that she had won the Betty Watson Rookie of the Year award when Lucille Bailie, a WNBL hall of famer and the acting University of Canberra Capitals GM, gave her a call. The win was empathic; Magbegor collected 41 of a possible 42 votes to take the award in a landslide, but humbly says there were a number of contenders for the prize.
“There were so many great rookies this year. Maddie (Rocci) was awesome, especially at the back end of the year when Nat (Hurst) didn’t play a couple of games and she really had to step up. So, it was a surprise, but it was definitely an honour as well.”
Ezi Magbegor collected 3.75 rebounds per game, but her rebounds per minute numbers were among the best in the league. (Photo: 5 Foot Photography)
Magbegor also excelled as a rim protector, ranking seventh in the league in blocks. On a blocks per minute basis, however, she was truly elite, recording a rejection every 11.13 minutes, behind only Jen Hamson, who tallied a block every 10.61 minutes.
Beyond the counting stats, Magbegor considers her mobility her best attribute. “Being able to run the floor as a 4/5, I think my speed helps me counter the physicality” she says.
“I’m a bit smaller than the people I come up against, but I think being able to use speed and versatility in those battles in the post, that’s one of my stronger aspects.”
Despite Magbegor’s productivity, it was generally a trying year for the University of Canberra Capitals. Hamstrung by injuries, they endured a 13-match losing streak at one point before rallying to record five wins in their last six games, including a boilover against minor premiers Perth.
Magbegor says the team never hung their heads. “Not winning games could cause a team to get upset, but we really stuck together. I think that’s what was really good about our team."
“Going to training and going on road trips, it was still fun. Instead of dwelling on the losses, the girls made it a good environment to be in.”
Magbegor says playing alongside Lauren Scherf and WNBA vet Mistie Bass accelerated her development. “They’ve been in different leagues for so long, they have great experience. I took on board whatever they had to say. Mistie was definitely a leader on court and if she saw anything she thought I needed to work on or that I could do better, she would speak up."
Jordan Hooper also provided something of a template for Magbegor, who would often sub in for the Nebraska native. “That was a motivation for me, I always stepped in thinking I needed to be as focused as she was and play as hard as she was playing.”
Magbegor joins giants of the game such as Lauren Jackson, Laura Hodges and Abby Bishop as winners of the Betty Watson Rookie of the Year. (Photo: 5 Foot Photography)
On joining the Capitals, Magbegor said she was relishing the opportunity to reunite with Paul Goriss, who had previously coached the Centre of Excellence squad when she was there. She says she appreciates his patient, encouraging approach. “I also enjoy his focus on individual performance, he really knows what you have to work on.”
Magbegor has signed with the Diamond Valley Eagles for the upcoming SEABL season. The UC Capitals would love to have her back for another campaign, though the lure of college looms large. Blue-chip programs like UCLA, UConn and Oregon are all reportedly interested in recruiting Magbegor, though she has been able to avoid getting caught up in the hype.
“My main focus was on the WNBL and not to stress over (college recruitment) or what I would do in the second half of the year. It was something I was able to put to the back of my mind.”
If she needs any advice on life as a college baller, she need look no further than brother Ovie, who has taken up a scholarship with the University of West Georgia.
“We talk quite a bit” Magbegor says of her sibling. “He found it a bit hard to adjust at the start because he went over not knowing anyone."
"But he’s settled in now and I can just tell when I speak to him that he’s more comfortable. Now that the season has started, he’s enjoying the experience.”