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Denton: Otis, Magic Coaches Assist Kids at Nap Ford Community School

By John Denton
October 25, 2011

ORLANDO – Orlando Magic President of Basketball Operations Otis Smith was bent over double, imploring a first-grade student to keep pushing through a 60-second set of sit-ups in order to beat 7-footer Adonal Foyle before the exhausted group finally stopped and broke into raucous laughter.

That was just one of the lighter moments from Tuesday when Smith, the Magic’s coaching staff and entire basketball operations group visited the Nap Ford Community School as part of the ``President’s Challenge Program.’’ In addition to hosting physical fitness stations for the kids, the Magic staff also distributed shoes, school supplies and snacks to all of the students in attendance at the four-hour clinic.

Smith, a volunteer board member at the Nap Ford Community School, said it’s important that even though the NBA is enduring a work stoppage that the franchise should not forget about giving back to the community. Smith was delighted to get help from the likes of head coach Stan Van Gundy, assistant coaches Brendan Malone, Patrick Ewing, Steve Clifford, Bob Beyer, Ahmad Ajami and Foyle, the Magic’s Director of Player Development, on Tuesday, and the smiles from the kids’ faces made the experience a positive one for all involved.

``We’re fortunate to be working for an ownership group that gets it and truly cares about the community,’’ Smith said of the Rich DeVos family. ``We’d prefer to be playing basketball right now, but because we’re not this gives us time to spend time with some of the people who need to see us the most. So getting out in the community and spending time with the kids like this is a plus-plus-plus for us.’’

Just last week, the Magic Volunteer Program (MVP) did clean-up work around the Downtown Recreational Center, the first-ever practice facility for the Magic from 1989 through 1998. Van Gundy said he much preferred being back in the gymnasium where he’s better suited working with kids on drills than planting shrubs or raking up brush.

``We were just outside of this building on Friday doing a cleanup thing. This is a lot more fun because I’m not a yard work guy,’’ Van Gundy said. ``This is more fun, seeing the kids and playing with them. The Magic have always been very committed to the community and I’m proud to be in an organization like that. They’re not somebody who just does it because it feels it has to. There’s a genuine feeling here that the Magic want to help the Central Florida community any way possible.’’

Van Gundy, Smith and the Magic’s entire coaching staff will again be working with local students on Wednesday when they put on a basketball clinic at the South Econ Community Gym. The coaching staff will teach the fundamentals of the game to 40 kids ages 8-14 from Orange County on Wednesday afternoon.

With the work stoppage between the NBA owners and players resulting in the cancellation of the preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season, Van Gundy and Smith have worked to stay busy and keep their minds somewhat on basketball. Smith, a motorcycle enthusiast, often takes late-afternoon rides to Jacksonville to visit his family and think about the season ahead. Van Gundy has immersed himself in coaching clinics, while also attending basketball practices at UCF, Rollins College and Stetson University.

``I’ve picked up at least one thing from every practice that I’ve been to that we can use in what we do,’’ Van Gundy said. ``That’s all we’re looking for because we’re not going to change our style of play or my system. But watching (the college teams), I picked up things that I thought would be good for us. Whether it’s seeing a drill or another play or a way to make a teaching point, I’ve actually learned a lot. Now, I just want to get back to where I can use it a little bit.’’

Smith said days like Tuesday, when he could get out of his office and temporarily stop worrying about when the 2011-12 season will start, was satisfying on so many levels. Most all, he said he reveled in seeing kids smile and laugh as they spent time with coaches that cared about their future.

``It’s just so good to see their smiles. A lot of these kids just need somebody to come out and show them some attention and we’ve done that,’’ Smith said. ``It’s just good for everybody to spend some time with these kids who are growing up in our neighborhoods and try to make a difference on their lives.’’

John Denton writes for E-mail John at