Denton's Notes: Camp Success, Anderson Reunion & More


By John Denton
October 6, 2012

MEXICO CITY – As Gustavo Ayon repeatedly doubled over and lifted one smiling child after another from the floor to the rim for a dunk, it was difficult to tell who was enjoying the experience more – the Orlando Magic center or the children taking part in Saturday’s basketball clinic.

Six Magic players – Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, E’Twaun Moore and Ayon – and several members of the New Orleans Hornets brought happiness and smiles to the faces of approximately 75 youngsters Saturday at a Special Olympics basketball clinic. The event was held at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico as a prelude to Sunday afternoon’s Mexico Game between the Magic and the Hornets (2:30 p.m., NBA TV).

``We didn’t even say anything when we first walked out here and they started smiling. We can’t even speak their language and they are smiling and happy that we are here,’’ said O’Quinn, a rookie center for the Magic. ``That just shows you the presence that NBA players can bring. Some of these kids travelled from four hours away, it was very important to them and I’m glad we could do it.’’

Ayon, the third-ever Mexican-born player to reach the NBA, was one of the star attractions during the event. He posed for dozens of pictures, signed even more autographs and interacted with the children by helping them dunk. Ayon, who understands English fluently, but shies away from speaking it publicly, was also all smiles throughout Saturday’s hour-long event.

NBA coaches were not scheduled to attend the event, but Magic assistant coach Brett Gunning made a special request to participate because of his love of children. Gunning high-fived children who made shots and encouraged them as they were doing half-court dribbling drills.

Magic rookie Maurice Harkless got his first glimpse at the kind of impact that NBA players have on children at the event. Hearing their laughs and seeing their smiles brought a warm feeling to Harkless’ heart.

``I didn’t know that the NBA had such an influence over other countries, but they were telling us that these kids drove four or five hours just for one day or an hour with us. That’s unbelievable,’’ said Harkless, who won’t play this preseason because of a sports hernia. ``Seeing how excited everybody here is to see us, it’s a great feeling. Knowing that these kids want to be like you and look up to you, that’s a great feeling.’’

ANDERSON’S REUNION WITH MAGIC: Ryan Anderson blossomed as a standout NBA player in Orlando the past three seasons and is the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player after putting up career-best numbers last season with the Magic.

Anderson’s stellar play helped him land a four-year, $36 million contract from the Hornets in July – one the Magic chose not to match in order to keep its financial flexibility in coming years. Anderson met many of his former Magic teammates at the NBA hotel in Mexico City on Friday night and he’s looking forward to facing them in Saturday’s exhibition opener.

``(The Magic) are a completely different team than the one I played on last year and they have all new coaches, so it won’t be too weird. But I guess it will still kind of be weird for me,’’ Anderson said. ``I’m excited to see J.J. (Redick), Jameer (Nelson) and Hedo (Turkoglu). There are still a bunch of great guys on that team. For the most part, those guys are going to be the weirdest ones for me to go against.’’

MEXICO CITY: After seeing the way the 2012 NBA All-Star Game at Orlando’s dazzling Amway Center came off without a hitch, Magic Director of Arena Operations Phil Hastings was a natural to assist with the arena setup in Mexico City.

Hastings, who is in his 10th season with the Magic, was tapped by the NBA to assist with the preparations for Sunday’s Mexico Game between the Magic and Hornets.

``This opportunity kind of came out of the blue,’’ Hastings said. ``I had worked for the NBA in the Finals and during the All-Star game last year in Orlando. But they gave me a call and said after the work that I had done with them before that I would be an asset for an event like this.’’

Hastings’ assignment required him to arrive in Mexico City a week before the game. He also faced some additional challenges getting the 22,000-seat Arena Ciudad de Mexico ready for basketball because a Monster Truck rally had been held at the facility just days earlier.

``I really didn’t know what all we’d have to do until we hit the ground running and started laying the court and setting up the baskets,’’ Hastings said. ``This facility is very, very big, but what I am impressed with is the staff here. They’ve never done anything for basketball, but they have learned quickly and run with it. After the Monster Truck rally, the event level, the locker rooms were caked in dirt. Up until (Saturday) it was pretty dirty. So they have been cleaning nonstop and doing a good job.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jdenton@orlandomagic.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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