Before Storm training camp began last week, Dan Hughes had never really coached Ezi Magbegor.
While sitting out the WNBA season last year due to medical reasons, Hughes studied a ton of video on the 6-foot-4 center with the 6-7 wingspan who garnered All-Rookie team consideration after averaging 6.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and shooting 56.9% from the floor as a reserve.
However, it’s one thing to watch Magbegor be dominant in spurts on a computer screen and another thing entirely seeing the 21-year-old Australian exhibit maturity and poise that belies her age up close and personal.
“Wow, she’s a lot of fun to coach and not virtually,” Hughes said during a Zoom call last week. “She’s nice to be in person with. You can just see her growing and her ability to understand the game and in some phases actually impact the game.
“She is a better shot blocker. Those are some things that are hard to see if you’re just watching film.”
Magbegor figures prominently in the Storm’s future considering her salary-cap-friendly contract ties her to Seattle for at least the next three years if the team exercises options.
More to the point, Magbegor factors into the defending WNBA champions’ immediate plans due to the absence of several veterans, including Breanna Stewart. At the moment, the Storm has 13 players at training camp, which is two fewer than the WNBA limit.
“We’re a little shy on post players to be honest with you,” Hughes said. “We only have four legitimate post players right now. … Knock on wood we’ve been lucky. We’ve had to keep the post players in our 5-on-5 on the floor most of the time. We haven’t been able to sub them out.”
The Storm expects Stewart perhaps late next week, but it’s unclear if backup center Mercedes Russell, who is playing with the Turkish team Galatasaray, will be available when Seattle opens the regular season May 15.
Early on, the Storm will likely lean heavily on Magbegor, who is more than willing to assume a bigger role after averaging just 13.3 minutes last year.
“There’s a few changes this year, so I’m hoping to step up a little bit and having a bigger role,” Magbegor said. “Not having Natasha Howard (traded to the New York Liberty) and Crystal Langhorne (retired), just kind of stepping up in Year Two and bringing more energy. Having a bigger role and a bigger impact on the game.”
When asked if Magbegor compared favorably to Howard, Hughes demurred and was careful not to pigeonhole the prodigious youngster into categories that might limit her potential.
“She’s got her own lane and she’s got her own thing,” Hughes said. “I loved a lot of the things Natasha did, but I think we want to coach Ezi in a way that takes advantage of a little more length and honestly a little more physical. Natasha was really quick. Ezi is still working on that stop and start bursts.
“The more I’m around Ezi, I want Ezi to have her own lane about the things that she does. From a basketball impact, hopefully she can impact some of the things Natasha did, but as far as coaching her, I want her to play to the strengths that she brings in her build and her look at the game.”
Hughes believes Magbegor, who averaged just 0.7 blocks last season, can make vast improvements on the defensive end as a rim protector. He’s also pushing her to expand offensively with mid-range jumpers and finishing plays inside despite contact.
“We’re working a lot with her movement and using some of that length and athleticism in certain ways,” Hughes said. “But she is really fun to coach. When you look at her and realize her age and her attitude, it’s amazing. She wants to learn. She learns almost on a daily basis. Those are things we coaches absolutely love. Every day is a good thing when you’re working with Ezi.”
Magbegor, who attempted just three three-pointers as a rookie with the Storm, is hoping to push her offensive game to the perimeter.
“Developing a three-point shot is something I’ve been working on for the last few years,” said Magbegor, who shot 41.7% (5 of 12) with the Melbourne Boomers late in 2020. “I definitely spent the offseason working on that. We had our WNBL season in Australia finish in December so I had the last four months to really work on my game.
“Just having more of a perimeter game. Being able to make plays and doing the little things like being a better rebounder, better screener and doing what I can to get my teammates open and just help change the pace of the game.”
In addition to her Storm aspirations, Magbegor is juggling several pursuits.
She’s a psychology major at Deakin University in Geelong, Australia, who is currently taking online classes called “Brain Behavior and Biology” and “Cross-Cultural Psychology” while expecting to attain a degree in 2022.
Magbegor is also one of 18 hopefuls contending for 12 spots on the Australian national team that’s headed to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“It would mean a lot,” she said. “Playing for Australia and going to the Olympic Games, it’s a big goal of mine. Being able to put on the green and gold again and do that at a young age is something really special to me.”
- Stephanie Talbot, whom the Storm acquired from the New York Liberty in a deal that included Sami Whitcomb, reported to training camp Friday. Talbot, a 6-2 forward, sat out last season after a one-year stint in Minnesota and two years in Phoenix.