Ezi Magbegor is the next big thing in Australian women’s basketball.
She’s tall, athletic, charming, oozes x-factor and at just 16-years-old is already a world champion and world championship MVP.
She’s also 194cm, just 1 centimetre short of Jackson, 9 behind the imposing Cambage, and still growing.
The Melbourne girl starred in the Australian Sapphires team which claimed gold in emphatic fashion at the FIBA under-17 world championships earlier this month.
The centre, who averaged 12 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal per game while shooting at 54 per cent from the field and 86 per cent from the free-throw line, was crowned tournament MVP and was one of three Aussies to win All-Star Five selection.
After stunning success in Spain, the year 11 student returned home to enjoy the last of the school holidays and even made her television debut last Monday as guest quiz master on Channel 10’s Have You Been Paying Attention.
“I would never, ever have imagined any of this.It's still a bit surreal, even though it's been a week I can't believe this has all happened,’’ she told SBS Zela.
Australian under-17 coach Shannon Seebohm has played and coached with, and against, some of the sport’s brightest stars but says Magbegor is a rare talent.
He’s never seen a player like her.
“The sky’s the limit with Ezi, it’s rare to see a player of her size and athleticism come along,’’ he said.
“Ezi’s skill level is still developing and if she continues to work hard on that, refine her game and really carve out a unique skill set for herself then anything is possible for her. I certainly hope we see her play for Australia at senior level, very soon I think, and from there anything is possible.
“She’s very unique. At the World Championships there wasn’t another Ezi Magbegor going around.
“I’ve been amazed by her level of maturity, which is a credit to her and her family. She’s got a smile that lights up the room, a lot of people have said that and she’s very charismatic. I don’t think you’d find anyone that didn’t like her, she’s a very special kid.”
The daughter of Nigerian parents, Patience and Appolus, Magbegor moved to Australia from New Zealand as a six-year-old.
She says while she didn’t inherit her booming height from her parents, her grandparents on both sides of the family are tall and so are her aunties and uncles.
“I was always tall as a kid but when I started high school all of a sudden I got taller than everyone else.”
She’s the third born behind Elo, 20, Ovie, 18, and ahead of 12-year-old AJ.
The family set up home at Craigieburn, in Melbourne’s north off the Hume Highway, and as a seven-year-old Magbegor tagged along with her older siblings to Coburg Giants Basketball Club.
Her sister and brothers all still play basketball at the club including AFL draft hopeful Ovie who plays for the Calder Cannons in the TAC Cup, the state’s elite under-18 pathway competition.
“Coburg’s a really great club, family orientated. Everyone knows each other, it’s like your second family,’’ she said.
“Up until top age under-12’s I wasn’t that good at basketball, I used to just run up and down the court and hope for the best! It wasn’t until under-14’s and under-16s where people saw something in me, up until then I’d just played for fun.”
Magbegor quickly made Vic Metro representative teams, represented the state as a 15-year-old at last year’s under-18 national championships and made the Australian Gems squad alongside players with top-level experience and four years her senior.
At the start of 2015 she relocated to Canberra to take up a scholarship at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence, formerly known as the Australian Institute of Sport.
It’s a big move for any teenager and it took Magbegor, and her parents, some getting used to.
“I think it’s been the best thing for me. It was such a huge change at the start but there are such great people there and they become your family. It’s helped me improve my basketball so much and life as well,’’ she said.
“My family are really proud and all very supportive of me. But mum loves when I come home, she gets so excited. My siblings say when I’m not home mum doesn’t cook their favourite foods but when I come home she cooks my favourite foods; she always makes chicken curry for me.”
Ezi does it
2016 was always about the Worlds.
Australia went through the Championships undefeated and sensationally knocked off the USA in the semi-final. It was America’s first ever loss at under-17 international level.
Magbegor said the Aussies enjoyed, and thrived on, underdog status.
“We played them in a practice game before the Championships and lost by three points, so we knew we were close. We just really wanted to beat them this time,’’ she said.
“Every one of their players was so athletic, they were quick, all of them could dribble and their athleticism just stood out. Throughout the whole tournament our defence was key, we put a big focus on that. America were a really good offensive rebounding team so we focused on boxing out and defensive transition and focusing on that helped us a lot because that let us down the last time we played them.
“Beating them was such a good feeling.”
Despite her individual dominance, Magbegor was shocked when officials read out her name as tournament MVP.
“I didn’t believe it at first. Any one of my teammates would’ve deserved it because we all played well all tournament and it was a team effort but it was a really good feeling to get MVP,’’ she said.
“I just tried to work on running hard on offence and defence, getting good posts, defence as well and focusing on all the little things that add up.
“Being a big it’s good to be athletic and I think I can use it to my advantage. There are girls bigger than me and obviously I’m not as strong as them, I just get knocked over, but I use my athleticism to my advantage.”
Magbegor heads back up to Canberra next week where her focus returns to school and studying maths, English, ancient history, psychology and biology.
Despite being a world champion, Magbegor is just a normal teenage girl who loves spending time with her friends and reading. Young adult fiction is her genre of choice, hard copy books, no screen. She finished Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere during the tournament in Spain and is on the hunt for a new read.
And just like all other young female basketballers of her generation, she grew up idolising the best player this country has ever produced.
“Lauren Jackson has been someone I’ve looked up to for many years, always Lauren.’’
“Her versatility, even though she was big, was awesome. She could shoot the ball and her all-round game was amazing, she was such a good player to watch.
“Then there’s Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips. I’ve really looked up to all of the Australians because they’ve gotten so far in their careers and are all great role models.”
Magbegor dreams of representing the Opals at an Olympic Games and following in the footsteps of a star-studded list of Aussies and plying her trade in the WNBA.
“To play for Australia and make an Olympic team, that’s the pinnacle, 100 per cent,’’ she said.
“To play in the WNBA one day is also my major dream.”