By any stretch of the imagination, the 2022 season was not easy on the Indiana Fever. An early season coaching change occurred, and the team is still searching for their full-time replacement after deciding to part ways with an interim coach, Carlos Knox.
Considering that five of the top nine players in the main rotation were rookies, inconsistent play was expected. They’re still searching for a concrete defensive identity, which General Manager Lin Dunn has repeatedly emphasized as a necessity.
Queen Egbo provided the brightest flashes of brilliance for a team looking to find that defensive mold. Egbo was a surprise pick for many going 10th overall in the first round. Still, after soaking in a full season of her play and development since her time at Baylor, it’d be easy to justify her being taken even higher in a hypothetical redraft.
Egbo was a McDonald’s All-American in high school coming out of Houston, but she joined a loaded team at Baylor as a freshman in 2018.
“I knew I had to stand out in some way. I knew I was a good rebounder, I knew I was a good shot blocker, but I knew I had to take it to the next step if I wanted to see the floor,” says Egbo.
As an energy player off the bench that year, she helped the Bears to a National Title. She took home Big 12 Sixth Woman of the Year the following season before becoming a full-time starter in her Junior and Senior seasons.
That same approach of relentlessness and tenacity to improve as a defender to put her stamp on Baylor played a significant part in putting her stamp on the WNBA early and often. She revels in shutting down an opponent at the rim or stifling them in the paint.
While her shot-blocking is a foundational aspect of her defensive game (she finished sixth in blocks per game this season), it’s just that, the basis. She brings true versatility at the five spot.
Egbo is incredibly mobile and a quick-twitch athlete, providing some viability as a switch defender. She can play comfortably in deep drop coverage in the paint or near the rim, but she can also play closer to the level of the screen. She’s shown flashes of dominance as an isolation defender in the post. She has the tools and defensive aptitude to become one of the top-flight defenders in basketball.
She feels she has significant strides to make that can take her into the upper echelon.
“Being able to guard guards at a higher level, not just one or two plays, but consistent stops. Defending the best guards in the league is the next step for me. Being more consistent at being great on defense, not taking any plays off. As a rookie, you kind of try to pace yourself a little bit, and I want to get out of that and just be explosive on the floor all game long,” says Egbo.
Egbo is playing for Nesibe Aydin this fall and winter, a Turkish club that will be competing in Eurocup this season (you can watch Eurocup games on the Fiba Basketball YouTube Channel).
She’s focusing on developing her post-game, refining her footwork, and continuing to develop her jumper from the mid-range, expanding how a defense has to guard her. While her jump shot is still a work in progress, the flashes of growth were there this season. There was a concerted effort to work it into her game, and where she was able to build off that was enticing.
“To consistently knock down that mid-range jumper, taking people off the dribble, and expanding my game offensively to where I’m not just a back to the basket big. Doing a little bit more of everything,” says Egbo on her offensive approach overseas. She’s even working on expanding her range outside the arc.
The framework is there for her to become a player who can create opposing frontcourts. She had moments this season where she could put slower-footed bigs in a bind because of her growing ability to catch and drive. She could cause havoc for smaller players who couldn’t handle her strength.
Consistency is key, as she points out, but the growth in her offensive game from her final season at Baylor to the end of her rookie year was incredibly encouraging for where her level of play is headed.
Yet, Egbo thinks her biggest growth this year came mentally. In her exit interview, she said she felt she grew the most this season as a teammate, which she elaborated on.
“Looking back on when I was younger, I wouldn’t necessarily say I was selfish, but I wasn’t always a positive teammate. I wasn’t always uplifting. I would kind of point the finger in high school and a little bit in college. I feel like I’ve done a good job of staying away from that and trying to uplift my teammates. Helping them on the floor, if they get beat, I’m always gonna be there,” says Egbo.
Despite their record, Egbo says the vibes were always good in Indiana. There was an understanding of patience from coaches, the staff, and the veterans already in place on the team. The group of rookies was naturally closer to one another, but the team as a whole was connected.
“Knowing how to talk to people was the biggest thing because every person is different. You can’t just yell at people. For some people, that motivates, but for some people, you need to pull to the side one-on-one. I learned that during this year in Indy, and it’s helped a lot.”
Egbo and Smith lost 12 times at Baylor together over a four-year stretch.
Learning how to be a pro and how to always be on was an experience this season.
“It was an eye-opener—you kind of get used to winning when you play for certain schools. Lexie, Henny, Lys, and I, got used to being on those teams. You can sometimes afford to take a few minutes off or a quarter off and know that we’re going to be okay. But in a time where you’re rebuilding, and you’re trying to figure yourself out, you don’t have time for that, so you have to come into practice every day willing to work. You have to come to the games every day trying to prove to everyone why you deserve to be here,” says Egbo.
Egbo’s excited for next season, but she’s not looking ahead. She’s putting the work in now. She’s avidly improving to become a better player while also knowing she could have an entirely different role next season. She knows how to adjust on the fly after going through a coaching and system change at Baylor.
“We’re definitely excited. I feel like next year is gonna be an adjustment for us with a lot of changes… the team might look a little different, and the coaches might look a little different, but just knowing that you have to come together to serve a common goal is the most important thing at hand.”
She knows it’s a process, and it will take time to get the Fever to where they want to be. But, she and the other rookies acknowledge that challenge and want to succeed and bring Indiana back to relevance in the W. They want to connect with players from the past to learn about what made the team special at its’ highest heights.
As the W season ended, Egbo stuck around Indianapolis rather than leaving for Turkey early or returning home to Texas. Getting accustomed to the Midwest was an adjustment for her, but she jumped at the opportunity to do work in the community with the Fever organization.
“I knew it could be something I’d enjoy doing. I’ve always done things in the past around the community with my Grandma. Being involved in the community allowed me to see a different side of Indiana,” says Egbo.
Immediately after the regular season ended, seeing Egbo out and about in Indiana felt like a near-daily occurrence on the Fever’s Instagram feed felt like a near-daily occurrence. She went out and participated in food drives and blood drives, went to youth and senior centers to spend the day, and could always be seen with a giant smile on her face.
“When you’re playing basketball, sometimes you’re just kind of closed off to everyone else like you’re doing what you do, and that’s mostly it,” says Egbo.
She loved getting to be around and engage with the kids. At Baylor, she completed a degree in Kinesiology and was on track to go to nursing school, something she’s weighing doing after her basketball career.
Her dog Deuce, a three-year-old Pit/Lab mix, makes an appearance on Zoom (she brought him to Turkey), and she lights up talking about him.
“He’s my best friend,” says Egbo with a laugh.
She’s reserved, which isn’t what you expect when she swats a shot and yells on-court. She’s got a quiet confidence about her, but not in an arrogant way; she knows who she is and understands the work she puts in will help carry her to who she’s going to be.
She wants to be an All-Star, an All-Defense level player, and win a WNBA Championship.
Egbo says that All-Defense is “very attainable for me in the next couple years,” and I’m inclined to agree, given her exploits in year one. She’s making herself felt in Indiana through her play on the court and efforts off of it.
As the Fever looks to turn the corner towards a better future, Queen Egbo has firmly positioned herself as one of the prime reasons to be optimistic about the next era in Indiana.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.