Bamba Surprises Magic Youth Academy Basketball Campers
ORLANDO – Chase Pfeiffer, a 13-year-old middle school student from Clermont, thought he had the perfect plan on Wednesday while facing towering center Mohamed Bamba during playful action at the Orlando Magic Youth Academy Basketball camp.
Pfeiffer, as aspiring basketball player himself, drove hard to his left before stopping quickly, hopping backward and letting fly a jump shot from the elbow of the lane. There was one problem, however: The 7-foot Bamba was able to use the longest wingspan in NBA history to recover from the drive and he easily swatted away Pfeiffer’s shot.
Smiling at the sequence that had just transpired, Pfeiffer thought about the stories that he would soon tell his friends and basketball teammates.
``It was awesome, and I’d do it again because that’s Mo Bamba!’’ Pfeiffer said excitedly of getting his shot swatted. ``He’s double the size of anyone here. I’ll tell all my friends that I got to meet an NBA rookie and that I got disrespected by Mo when he blocked my shot. It was cool.’’
``Cool,’’ was the way many of the approximately 50 campers described meeting Bamba on Wednesday during the Magic Youth Academy Basketball Camps presented by UnitedHealthcare. In addition to answering several questions from the campers, Bamba took on all challengers in one-on-one, did slide and defensive drills and took part in the five-on-five session where he swatted Pfeiffer’s shot. Late in the day, one player after another lined up and tried doing the unthinkable – shooting over the outstretched arms of the shot-blocking center the Magic selected with the sixth pick in June’s NBA Draft. Predictably, Bamba swatted just about every shot – much to the delight of the boys and girls ranging in ages 7-16.
``He’s so big. I was going to try and hit a step-back on him, but he just blocked the heck out of my shot,’’ marveled Ryan Prescott, a shooting guard heading into his sophomore season at Oviedo High School. ``Mo’s really huge. It was really a big surprise to see him here today and I’m hopeful to see him bring a playoff appearance to the Magic this season.’’
Time will ultimately tell if the 20-year-old Bamba can have a significant impact this season on the Magic with his long-armed defense and his rapidly improving offensive game. Since starring for the Magic’s Summer League squad earlier in the month on Las Vegas, Bamba has spent the past three weeks getting used to life in Central Florida and working out daily at the team’s headquarters at the Amway Center. On Wednesday, however, his focus was on trying to make a positive impact on the lives of children who look up to him – literally and figuratively.
``I take (being a role model) very seriously because the platform is there for me to have significant change on the youth, which is the world because they are our future,’’ Bamba said.
Bamba, a Harlem native, recalled a time when he attended a camp as a 10-year-old and he got to meet Amare Stoudemire and Chris Duhon when they played for the New York Knicks. Bamba said he was incredibly impacted by that day and it was one of the first times in his life that he thought about someday playing in the NBA. Now that he’s the NBA player getting to shape and advise youngsters, Bamba wants to make certain that his message and actions are supportive and encouraging.
``I remember when I was a kid and got to do events like this and I did one where I was a Milbane kid, which was like a non-profit organization in New York, and Chris Duhon and Amare Stoudemire came, and to be on the opposite end now, it’s pretty cool,’’ Bamba said. ``It wasn’t necessarily anything that (Stoudemire and Duhon) said, but it was just being around them and seeing that they’re real people and not just someone on TV screens. That meant everything to me at the time.’’
Bamba, the son of parents who immigrated to the United States from the Ivory Coast and someone who grew up in a fourth-floor apartment in the Lenox section of Harlem, has been in the giving mood of late. Not long after signing his first professional contract with the Magic, Bamba bought Denario Watkins – a close friend since the two of them were in the third grade – a new car. Long ago, Bamba was irked when he was cut from a fifth-grade team and Watkins was included on the roster as a fourth-grader, but the two have remained close friends through the years. Bamba said he wouldn’t be where he is now without the help of friends like Watkins.
``He’s been someone who has been in my corner since the third grade and it was just a small token of my appreciation,’’ the big man said. ``He’s been my best friend since we were in third grade and I remember the first time that I met him, and we were playing kickball. … Ever since third grade, he’s been my best friend and when I was in college he’d offer that moral support and in high school he’d come to games and surprise me. It’s a relationship I’ve held on since I was young.’’
As for the kids at Wednesday’s camp, Bamba said the funniest question he got was asking him about which player’s shot that he most looked forward to blocking this season while playing for the Magic. ``I told the kid there’s not just one, so I really didn’t have an answer for him,’’ Bamba said with a chuckle.
Bamba was also asked several questions about his expansive wingspan, one that measures out at a remarkable 7 feet, 10 inches. It’s the longest ever recorded in NBA history and one that the center hopes will help him be the defensive stopper that the Magic have needed for years.
His message on Wednesday, however, was about so much more than physical tools and dreams of being a professional basketball player. Bamba talked to kids about carrying themselves with supreme confidence – both on the basketball court and in daily life.
``One thing I told the kids is to believe in themselves and shoot for the stars,’’ he said. ``As cheesy as that sounds, it’s like a real thing. Being told to get out, not being afraid to fail and try new things – that really makes a difference.’’
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