Advice From Magic's Veterans Helping Bamba Get Ready For Season

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Upon completing his solid and highly encouraging play in the NBA’s Summer League, rookie center Mohamed Bamba received congratulations from many of the Orlando Magic’s veteran players.

Also, they gave the 20-year-old 7-footer something of a chilling warning.

``When I talk to the veteran guys they tell me like, `Summer league is nothing compared to the actual show,’’’ Bamba said, referring to play at the NBA level. ``But (summer league) was definitely good to play in front of an actual live crowd and in front of people other than just your teammates or (Magic assistant coach) Pat (Delany).

``It was fun, but I went back and looked over the log sheet and I was like, `I only played 20 minutes a game?’’’ he added. ``I was on a little bit of a minutes’ restriction, but it was definitely fun.’’

Bamba, the No. 6 pick in June’s NBA Draft, showed off some of his enormous potential earlier in the month and he’s tried to keep that momentum going with his work with his Magic teammates at the Amway Center. Already, he’s formed a tight bond with veterans such as Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Timofey Mozgov with his strong work ethic and his engaging personality. The Magic have made the rookie feel welcome to the team and the big man sees no reason why he shouldn’t thrive in Orlando in his rookie season.

``T-Mo, Timofey Mozgov, is always in the arena and I poke fun at his Russian hip-hop or whatever he calls it,’’ joked Bamba, who made a surprise appearance at the Magic Youth Academy on Wednesday to work with children campers. ``Vooch is always around, A.G. is always around. … In a few minutes after getting drafted I got a text message from the core group of guys, so it’s a family organization.’’

Using the longest wingspan in NBA history (7 feet, 10 inches), Bamba opened some eyes with his performance in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in early July. Despite his playing time being limited as a precautionary measure, Bamba still contributed 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 19 minutes a night. More impressively, he blocked seven shots, altered dozens of others, sank two high-arching 3-pointers and connected on 60 percent of his shots.

Bamba was eager to play alongside of Isaac, Orlando’s No. 6 pick from a season earlier, and show off their abilities as dominant shot blockers and high/low offensive threats. Isaac and Bamba, both native New Yorkers, have known each other for years through high school and AAU basketball channels and their on-court chemistry clicked immediately while in Las Vegas.

Bamba and Isaac made life miserable for Memphis rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr., the No. 4 pick in the June Draft, by repeatedly swatting his shots or altering them. Bamba said he feels fortunate to be on a team with a blossoming young player such as Isaac, a fellow 20-year-old who he already feels completely comfortable around.

``That’s really how we are off the court,’’ Bamba said of the chemistry with Isaac, who averaged 14.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.3 steals in three summer league games. ``He’s a great dude. He’s such a good dude that he reminds me of (former University of Texas teammate) Matt Coleman. Matt was such an unselfish dude that it kind of carried over into my life. I’m going to try and one-up (Isaac) in terms of being so unselfish.’’

Not long after returning to Orlando, Bamba got a taste of the growing optimism among Magic fans. In Bamba, Isaac and Gordon – who signed a long-term contract extension with Orlando in early July – Magic backers clearly see a potentially potent front line of the future. Already, the group has a lofty nickname – B.I.G. representing the first letters of their last names and their potential – and Magic fans can hardly wait to see them all play together in the coming season.

``Just walking the streets (in Orlando), you could hear people screaming, `You and Jon, let’s see what you guy have!’’’ Bamba said. ``So that’s already pretty cool.’’

Next week, Bamba – a Harlem product – will head back to his native New York for the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program. While there, he’ll get to once again see Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, Sacramento’s Marvin Bagley III, Atlanta’s Trae Young, Memphis’ Jackson Jr. and Dallas’ Luka Doncic – players picked ahead of him in the Draft. Bamba admitted in Las Vegas that he uses a picture of Ayton shaking hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as the No. 1 pick as the screen saver on his computer as motivation.

That image has spurred him to spend his entire offseason working on bettering his body and growing his game – first in Southern California with famed trainer Drew Hanlen and NBA stars Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum and most recently in Orlando with the Magic’s new coaching staff.

``Just (focusing on) my body and making sure that my conditioning is the best that it can me and kind of doing a maintenance check while working on all of my skills with the coaches,’’ said Bamba, who noted that he is still living in a temporary apartment as he continues to learn his way around Orlando and how to deal with the seemingly daily deluges of rain. ``I’d say it’s about a four-hour block (of workouts at the Amway Center). Each day at the arena, I’m there from about 8:30-12:30 or 1 (p.m.) and doing an array of different things on the court, in the weight room and treatment.

``I kept telling people that I’m ready to get out to Orlando and get back to the same regiment that I was on during (the) pre-draft (process),’’ added Bamba, who totally revamped his shooting stroke in work earlier this summer. ``I take this time very seriously because the offseason is for the betterment of the player.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.