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Smith a name to remember

ALANNA Smith is on the threshold of becoming Australian women’s basketball’s biggest international name, and Ezi Magbegor isn’t far behind, the dynamic duo today taken in the first round of the WNBA draft.

Smith, 22 and a versatile 193cm forward coming off a stellar four-year college career at storied Stanford University, today was selected at #8 by Phoenix Mercury and her Opals teammate Magbegor, 19 and also 193cm, was taken at #12 by Seattle Storm.

The Mercury is the club with the greatest long-term affiliation for Australians, previously coached by 2012 London Olympics Opals coach Carrie Graf and now by current Opals coach Sandy Brondello and the first franchise to recruit an Australian, FIBA Hall of Famer Michele Timms when the WNBA launched in 1997.

Timms #7 uniform was even retired by Phoenix where Opals power forward Michelle Brogan was next to arrive in 1998.

Multiple-Olympian Kristi Harrower was signed as a free agent by the Mercury before the 1998 season, as was Michelle Cleary ahead of the 2000 season.

Kristen Veal was selected at #13 by Phoenix in the 2001 draft, with Belinda Snell the next Aussie there after the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Australia’s Rio Olympics captain Penny Taylor won multiple titles with Phoenix where Leilani Mitchell was drafted at #25 in 2008.

Erin Phillips won her second WNBA championship with the Mercury.

Cayla George and Tess Madgen both have worn Mercury colours and Stephanie Talbot is on the current roster.

Of the 34 Aussies with some degree of WNBA credentials, that makes 12 who have history with Phoenix.

And Magbegor lobbing at Seattle, where Australia’s greatest basketball player Lauren Jackson made her name, also will arrive in an “Oz-friendly” environment.

The Storm selected new Sydney Uni Flames WNBL coach Katrina Hibbert at #57 in the 2000 draft, a year before Jackson (pictured) was Australia’s first #1 draft pick.

The WNBL’s most successful player Suzy Batkovic was selected at #22 by Seattle in 2003, Opals Abby Bishop and naturalised Sami Whitcomb additionally with Storm history.

Smith, the daughter of  Darren Smith, who played 211 NBL games at Hobart Devils, Sydney Kings, Victoria Titans and Victoria Giants, is one of the most highly sought WNBL free agents this century, with virtually every club in pursuit of her signature.

Elevated into the Opals team which claimed the Silver Medal at the 2017 FIBA Women's Asia Cup in India, Smith, then 20, had a huge impact, averaging 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds - second and third-highest on the team respectively – in just 14.5 minutes per game.

Her skill and poise were stunningly evident and last year at the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Tenerife, Spain, she again was substantial with 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game in just 14.4 minutes.

Smith had 10 points in the Gold Medal game against the USA, continuing a journey which began with multiple junior selections for Australia and her selection in the All Star Five for the tournament in Russia at the 2015 FIBA Under-19 World Championship.

SMITH & WESTERN CONFERENCE: Alanna Smith and father Darren at today's WNBA draft.

Winning the Betty Watson Rookie of the Year award while at Canberra Capitals in 2017-18, Magbegor also has been on the fast-track to fame, emerging as a star by leading Australia’s Sapphires to the Gold Medal the FIBA Under-17 World Championship in 2016 where she also was named tournament Most Valuable Player.

Magbegor was part of last year’s Opals’ Gold Medal-winning team at the Commonwealth Games and Australia’s Silver Medallists at the FIBA Women’s World Cup.To be selected by the reigning WNBA champion is no small feather in Magbegor’s cap, the athletic forward with two further years to run on her WNBL contract with Melbourne Boomers.

BREAKTHROUGH: Ezi Magbegor is heading for the WNBA after being drafted today.

The WNBA season tips off on May 25 with Opals’ Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist playmaker Nicole Seekamp also in the running for a roster spot at Dallas Wings, continuing the Aussie avalanche.

Apr 11

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