Ezi Magbegor praises Cayla George ahead of Opals' FIBA Asia Cup warm-up

Ezi Magbegor takes a few seconds to think about the road she took to get here.

It is hardly the one less travelled - but rarely has one walked it bearing the weight of expectation like this 20-year-old basketball star.

Eziyoda Magbegor is still coming to grips with her reputation as Australian basketball's next big thing. Picture: Getty

Eziyoda Magbegor is still coming to grips with her reputation as Australian basketball's next big thing. Picture: Getty

That suits Magbegor just fine, because the footsteps of one teammate in particular are guiding her ahead of her return to Canberra on Thursday night.

Officials say about 3000 tickets have been sold for the Opals' clash against China at the AIS Arena, which doubles as their final tune-up before flying to India for the FIBA Asia Cup.

Magbegor will be anything but daunted - instead, she will be simply excited to take the next step in a whirlwind career alongside her mentor in Opals star Cayla George.

She was dubbed the next Lauren Jackson as a teenager. National team coach Sandy Brondello labelled her "the future of the Opals in her position".

The fact Magbegor has never found it difficult to carry the weight of such expectations speaks volumes about her character.

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"I was still young and am still young, so I knew I still had a lot to work on before I could be classified as 'the next big thing'," Magbegor said.

"I guess a lot of people saw potential in me, and I'm still working on my game. Hopefully I can still develop my game and have a successful career ahead.

"I'm just really excited for the next couple of tournaments in the lead up to next year.

"Obviously Olympics is next year and making an Olympic team has always been a goal of mine. Hopefully I can put myself in the best situation to be on that team.

"I'm pretty grateful to be a part of this whole program and I have been a part of it for the past couple of years.

The Opals have played two matches behind closed doors against China this week. Picture: Getty

The Opals have played two matches behind closed doors against China this week. Picture: Getty

"The main thing we wanted to get out of this camp is working on our sets and getting our defence right.

"The first game was a pretty good hit-out and China came out hard in [Tuesday's] game, and we will expect the same on Thursday. They're good games to play leading into Asia Cup."

The mere notion of talking so freely about her Tokyo dream is an indication of just how much Magbegor has grown since packing her bags as a 15-year-old.

The third of four kids was the first to leave home when she moved from Melbourne to Canberra to join the Australian Institute of Sport's basketball program.

Before long she was stepping onto the court with the Canberra Capitals and quickly emerged as one of the WNBL's brightest young talents with an offer from the University of Connecticut - the No. 1 team in women's college basketball - on the table.

Cayla George (l) has been a huge help for Ezi Magbegor. Picture: Getty

Cayla George (l) has been a huge help for Ezi Magbegor. Picture: Getty

It was an offer she ultimately turned down so she could join the Melbourne Boomers and play against elite women in the WNBL.

Then came the WNBA draft earlier this year when Magbegor was taken by reigning champions Seattle with the 12th pick.

But the transition was never quite as easy as Magbegor's remarkable ability made it seem.

"That step from junior to senior professional basketball is a pretty big step," Magbegor said.

"I have been surrounded by so many professionals with the Opals girls, the Canberra Capitals and then the Melbourne Boomers as well.

Melbourne Boomers and Opals star Cayla George has been invaluable for Ezi Magbegor. Picture: Mick Connolly

Melbourne Boomers and Opals star Cayla George has been invaluable for Ezi Magbegor. Picture: Mick Connolly

"I have definitely been exposed to people who are professionals, and I have learnt a lot from them on and off the court, and learnt how to be a professional.

"I'm pretty grateful to be surrounded by people I am able to learn from. There is so many people I can learn from.

"In particular Cayla George. I play with her at the Boomers as well so being able to learn from her is great, she is such a great leader and a great person as well.

"I'm lucky to be following in her footsteps and learning from her."

FIBA EXHIBITION GAME

Thursday: Opals v China at AIS Arena, 6.30pm. Tickets from Ticketek

This story The footsteps making life Ezi first appeared on The Canberra Times.