Denton: Magic's Training Camp Opens Tuesday

By John Denton
Sept. 30, 2013

ORLANDO – Maurice Harkless is wise well beyond his 20 years of age, and even though he spent just one year on a college campus and one season in the NBA, he knows a special thing when he sees it with the Orlando Magic.

When Harkless isn’t at the Magic’s headquarters getting up shots, lifting weights or working on his ball-handling, he’s usually playing video games or simply hanging out with teammates Kyle O’Quinn or Doron Lamb. Or he’s going to dinner with rookie guard Victor Oladipo or taking in a football game or a movie with power forward Tobias Harris. To Harkless, his teammates are ``my brothers’’ and he said it’s ``just crazy’’ how much time they spend together both on and off the floor.

``I feel like this is as close as you can get to a college team in the NBA,’’ Harkless said of the chemistry coursing throughout the Magic. ``These are like my brothers. I love being around them and I can’t get enough of it.’’

When the Magic open training camp on Tuesday at the Amway Center, they are hoping that the tight bonds among teammates and the infectious chemistry will pay off in a big way. With 12 players on the roster with two-or-fewer seasons of NBA experience, Orlando’s young players have leaned on each other to ease the transition to professional basketball.

Whereas most NBA players head out on vacations immediately after the season, Orlando’s group of first and second-year players were back at the complex two weeks after the final regular-season game. They trained through the Summer League in July. And following a short break, much of the team was back for voluntary boxing drills, sprint work, weight-lifting sessions and on-court action for the past two months. NBA teams can’t require players to attend offseason workouts, and the Magic players put in the work on a voluntary basis. Their reasoning was simple: They want to make major strides in this upcoming season.

The work throughout the offseason is a part of a culture change put in place by Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan, head coach Jacque Vaughn and the rest of the Magic staff, including new strength and conditioning coach Bill Burgos. They impressed upon the players that the biggest gains are often made in the offseason, and Orlando’s players were hungry to get better following a difficult 2012-13 season.

``Us winning just 20 games last year made us know that’s not where we want to be, so we wanted to come together as a team, do all we can to get better and build some chemistry,’’ said Harris, a standout with the Magic late last season following a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. ``I think the work we put in is going to help us out a lot. And at the same time it’s going to improve out basketball because a lot of us improved. We’ve gotten better and that’s all you can ask for.’’

Tuesday’s first practice will also serve as the official NBA debut of rookie guard Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. Oladipo has grown exceptionally close to his teammates by working with them for the past two months, but he said his emotions will be especially flowing for his first practice.

``I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life and to actually be a part of a NBA program now, it’s definitely a blessing,’’ said Oladipo, who will split time at shooting guard and point guard this season. ``Training camp is (Tuesday) and I’m kind of anxious. I’m looking forward to going out there with my teammates and going to war every night.’’

    PHYSICAL TRANSFORMATIONS

    Most of the Magic’s players, such as Harris and Harkless, have gotten significantly better physically because of the dedication to staying in the gym all summer. Here’s a glimpse at some of the transformations that Magic players have made this summer because of their gym and weights work:

     

  • Harris played at 223 pounds last season, but he said he’s bulked up to a ripped 240 pounds now while continuing to be explosive off the dribble. Harris will spend time at both power forward and small forward this season and he said the added muscle should make him a better post player and in better shape late in games.

    ``I see myself playing whatever Coach (Jacque) Vaughn wants me to play and whatever position that is going to help us as a team get better,’’ he said. ``I can play (small forward) or (power forward) – I’m comfortable at both.’’

     

  • Andrew Nicholson spent most of his rookie season at 234 pounds and he paid for it by often getting pushed around by bigger, stronger power forwards. This summer, he was back in the gym two weeks after the season ended and his transformed his body in a major way, bulking up to 248 pounds.

    Nicholson, like center Nikola Vucevic, also spent a chunk of his summer playing for his National Team and feels he is better prepared to handle the rigors of playing in the post in the NBA following a summer of hard work. ``I’ve got a lot more weight on my body now, so getting position is a lot easier and defending is getting a lot easier too,’’ Nicholson said. ``I’ve been working on a lot of stuff and I think it will pay off for me.’’

     

  • Whereas others such as Kyle O’Quinn and Harkless have worked to add muscle and bulk to their rail-thin frames, Lamb stayed in the gym in an attempt to shed weight and improve his conditioning. After playing his rookie season at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Lamb almost looks like a different person after getting down to a slim 190 pounds. He’s worked so hard that the training staff actually wants him to put a few pounds back on before the start of the regular season.

    ``I was in the weight room and I was able to lose a lot of weight,’’ Lamb said. ``I want to gain some of that weight back and get a little stronger. It feels like a different body to me, but I still have to keep working hard to get myself ready for the season.’’

     

  • Hennigan and Vaughn both have offices overlooking the practice court and both have raved about the dedication of the players throughout the summer. Regardless of the day of the week or the time of night, the sounds of clanging weights, bouncing balls or squeaking sneakers could be heard. Hennigan likes how his group of young players have pushed each other through positive peer pressure.

    ``I think our players and coaches did a really good job over the summer of instilling a mindset of work and consistency. So now we want to build off that momentum,’’ Hennigan said. ``Any time you can activate some chemistry and continuity and build some familiarity, that’s a good thing.

    ``You can hold yourself accountable, but when you have teammates helping to hold you accountable, that’s a powerful thing,’’ Hennigan added. ``The structure that we’ve been able to implement is one of accountability and making sure that the work you put in is fruitful and purposeful.’’

    Added Vaughn: ``Our approach of the offseason was really good. As young as some of our guys are in the league, they have to learn how to work in the offseason. And for the most part guys had a great approach. … Now, we want to see how it translates between the lines. (The added muscles) look great in pictures and with their shirts off, but let’s translate it over to the court now.’’

    FRIENDLY RULES

    O’Quinn, whose arms are noticeably bigger following his first offseason in a NBA work regime, said the Magic’s core of young players were more than willing to spend their summers working because they enjoy spending time together. He said the group actually has rules that no one should have to dine alone because there are so many close friends on the team.’’

    ``It just doesn’t seem right if you do something by yourself because we have such a good chemistry among the guys,’’ O’Quinn said. ``We’ll only give you a pass if you have family in town, and sometimes we even go out with the other guy’s family. We just stay together so much and we like doing group things.’’

    O’Quinn and Harris live one floor apart and they will often ride together to and from workouts. The same goes for Harkless and Lamb, who live directly on top of one another in a downtown apartment complex. Like Harkless, Lamb has no problem referring to his teammates as ``brothers.’’

    ``Mo lives right below me, so we’re together all of the time either playing video games, going out to eat or in the gym,’’ Lamb said. ``So really it’s almost like we’re together 24 hours a day.’’

    Harkless believes that the tight bonds shared by Magic players will help the team persevere through tough times and maybe even exceed expectations this season. The Magic are expected to once again be a team in transition because of the amount of youth on the roster. But Harkless feels that because the Magic have put in so much offseason work that the learning curve can be shortened and the Magic can be a surprise team.

    ``We’ve all been here all summer and have gotten a lot better and we can’t wait for the season to start,’’ Harkless said. ``We’re always together as a group. I’m always with somebody whether it’s Kyle, Tobias, Doron or Victor. I think it’s important that we treat each other more like brothers than teammates. I really think that’s going to help us on the court this season.’’

CONTINUE TO PLAYER EVALUATIONS >>>

 

 

 

 




Follow John Denton on Twitter here