17/04/2024

Opals Ezi Magbegor (L) and Steph Talbot (R) holding the WNBA Commissioner's Cup. (Photo: Seattle Storm/Twitter)

Opals Ezi Magbegor and Steph Talbot haven't "missed a beat" since returning to their WNBA side the Seattle Storm post-Tokyo.

Opals Steph Talbot and Ezi Magbegor returned to the Seattle Storm not even two weeks ago as Olympians.

Within days, they’d added the WNBA’s newest prize – the Commissioner’s Cup – to their trophy cabinet. While the Opals pair would have preferred medals around their necks, the Australian stars are still playing at their best regardless.

The Storm sat atop the Western Conference before today, where a loss to the New York Liberty allowed the Las Vegas Aces to leapfrog the title hopefuls.

It was the second in a string of two losses after taking home the Cup (and the $300,000 that came with it), not the ideal start after the Olympic break.

However, with fellow Olympians in Sue Bird and Breanna Tarrant rested for the past two games, Magbegor and Talbot found themselves with more time off the bench.

Magbegor has averaged 10 points, four rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot across her past three games. Talbot meanwhile has averaged four points, an assist, a steal and two rebounds, and was the starting small forward in the loss to the Liberty.

Speaking to media earlier in the week, coach Noelle Quinn had been quickly impressed by how immediately the pair – and the squad as a whole – got back into the swing of things post Tokyo.

“Them coming back is like they haven’t missed a beat… continuing to play at that high level is just the goal for those two,” Quinn said.

“I think [the goal is] just to continue to encourage them to stay the course that they were on before they had to leave early.

“We talk about Steph and her efficiency at the three point line, but also what she’s done on the defensive end – her efficiency there – has helped us. That energy off the bench is so crucial.

“It’s like when you’re away from your loved ones and then you reconnect; you appreciate each other even more. You don’t miss a beat.

“That opportunity that we had without our Olympians allowed for some good individual time for the rest of the team that was here. They were still playing at an elite level in Tokyo.

“Bringing all that back, meshing all that together, it’s cool to see everyone feeling more confident within their roles and knowing what they can do to help this team get to another level.”

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Though Talbot had her injury concerns early in the Opals’ campaign, she’s been fast to bounce back to her feet.

“I still feel good,” Talbot said.

“I was training right up to the Olympics and it probably only affected me a couple of days before the first game.

“It was only a short period that I’ve been out, and I’ve still been doing stuff. I feel good, I’ve been back training this week. So yeah, I think I’ll be fine.”

The question was asked of Quinn whether the Opals would struggle to adapt back to their roles in the side: both typically play significantly more minutes at national level than at the Storm.

“I don’t think [their roles will change],” she explained.

“I think whatever role you are in, you have to be great within that role. Those minutes that Ezi and Steph play are crucial minutes for us.

“A lot of times, you go back to the LA game, Ezi’s in the game for the entire second half. You go back to a lot of other games where Steph is in at the end of games. Those minutes matter.

“Whether it’s playing 30 minutes or 10 minutes, it’s about having ownership within those minutes and understanding that everybody’s role is crucial to what we wanted to do.”

What was not so straightforward for Quinn was watching her players go head to head at Tokyo on opposing sides. Bird and Tarrant did battle with Magbegor and Talbot in the women’s quarter-final.

While the Americans ultimately claimed the 79-55 victory, Quinn wasn’t too quick to jump on board either side.

“I was rooting for the Storm, that’s who I was rooting for!,” she laughed.

“I was super proud of our Olympians.. To have the opportunity to play for your country, to represent your country is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Except for Sue, she’s done it five times!

“I just think it’s amazing, because you’re playing basketball at the highest level. The Olympics is the best of the best, the elite of the elite. Having the opportunity to represent that it’s huge in my opinion.”

The Olympic experience

The Olympic experience at Tokyo was significantly different for every athlete who competed. With no crowds and the majority confined to the Olympic Village when not playing, it’s not one that will likely be repeated again.

For a first-time Olympian like Magbegor, it was every chance of being not what she dreamed of. Speaking on her time in Tokyo, however, it was just as magical to her as she could have imagined.

“I loved the whole experience,” Magbegor said.

“I think it was really cool to be immersed in the whole Olympic experience, and just walk past other athletes every day. I had Steph as my roomie, so got to spend a little bit more time with her.

“We didn’t get to sightsee because of COVID, we were just stuck in the Village the whole time. I guess we got to look out the window on the bus trip, it was an hour long right to [where] we played at.

“The Australian building was set up really cool. There were deck chairs and a viewing area where you could watch the other events and everything. There was a coffee cart, I don’t drink coffee but I had hot chocolates a lot!”

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The Opals celebrate after their victory over Puerto Rico. (Photo: FIBA)

Talbot was one of the lucky ones to be going to Tokyo as her second Olympics, also representing Australia at Rio 2016.

While the experience was a unique one, sharing it with Magbegor made it that little bit more special.

“It was a good experience, obviously basketball aside,” Talbot said.

“The Olympic experience and the Village and the teammates we got to be with was all a really good experience.

“It’s special for me to get to see Ezi’s career grow so close up, and watch her grow as a player.

“She’s super talented and super athletic, but it’s just the mindset she brought to the team. The aggressiveness that she bought so consistently was huge for us.

“If she can bring that back here, not that she doesn’t do it, she definitely does it in spurts – but consistently, in these games where Stewy and Sue are out and in finals down the stretch, it’s going to be cool.”

Neither Magbegor or Talbot were overly keen to see their champion teammates on the other side of the court in Tokyo.

With the limitations with the Olympic Village however, it also acted as a reunion of sorts.

“When you have a leader like Sue I think it’s always nicer when she’s on your team and not against you, that’s for sure,” Talbot laughed.

“It’s definitely better to have them on your team then play against them,” Magbegor added.

“It was all love at the start of the game. We said hello and everything. It was good to see them, because they didn’t stay at the Village. When we did see them before the game it was nice and all smiles.”

The Storm’s next challenge awaits in a rematch with the Liberty on Saturday morning.

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