Clifford Impressed with Bamba's Basketball IQ, Eagerness to Learn

by John Denton

PHILADELPHIA – To a man, veteran players often say that they are able to master the transition from college basketball to the NBA when they start analyzing and looking at the game a dramatically different way.

For Orlando Magic rookie Mohamed Bamba that moment just might have come before he even played his first NBA game.

Bamba, 20, recently tuned in to an NBA TV replay of last spring’s playoff series between the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets. Midway through watching one game in particular, Bamba – the sixth overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft – realized a change had come about in how he was watching the Rockets take apart the Jazz in the second-round playoff series.

``I was looking at different things, like what kind of coverages they were using. A year ago, I wasn’t watching and thinking the same things; a year ago, I was watching to see what one-on-one moves so-and-so can do,’’ Bamba said, still in amazement. ``It’s crazy to me how my thinking and thought processes about different offenses and defensive schemes have evolved.’’

Bamba, who made his preseason debut on Monday night in the Magic’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, was so taken aback by his change in approach that he immediately texted Orlando head coach Steve Clifford. Hearing Bamba’s analysis on the game he was watching brought a big smile to Clifford’s face.

``He said, `I’m watching this game and all I’m looking at are what their coverages are like and what they’re running for offense,’’’ Clifford recalled. ``People can get excited about (Bamba’s) length and that shows his physical talent, but he’s a smart guy. And I do think he has a real affection for the game.’’

POTENTIAL POSITION SWITCH: With the Magic eager to try and play defensive aces Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac at the two forward slots this season, Evan Fournier will likely shift back to the shooting guard position. That’s the spot that he primarily played in the first four years of his NBA career – the last two of those being in Orlando – before moving to small forward much of last season out of necessity because of the Magic’s personnel.

While there isn’t a great deal of difference between shooting guard and small forward offensively, there is a sizeable variance when he’s being asked to guard bigger wings such as LeBron James, Paul George and Jayson Tatum. The 6-foot-7 Fournier actually prefers playing shooting guard and he’s looking forward to playing more there this season.

``It really depends on the (opposing) teams and it really doesn’t matter sometimes because it’s going to be two shooting guards (in the opposition’s lineup). But some teams, where they have a legit small forward, that will be different for me,’’ Fournier said. ``But when I play the shooting guard position I’m chasing guys off pin-downs and off screens, but I feel like I have a small advantage because I’m usually bigger. I’ve always felt like (shooting guard) is my position, but I was just playing small forward because the team needed me there.’’

A BIT OF A HOMECOMING: Bamba is a proud New Yorker, hailing from Harlem, but he claims Philadelphia as ``something of a second home’’ after attending high school not far away from the City of Brotherly Love. Bamba first started to flourish as a basketball player while playing at Westtown (Pa.) School and he has said that some of his favorite memories was when he and teammates would make the 45-minute drive into Philadelphia for 76ers games.

``Some of the best (memories) were coming to these games,’’ Bamba said of the Sixers. ``We came to quite a few. I’d say five-to-10, which is a lot because we didn’t get off campus too much.’’

Bamba said had plenty of friends and former Westtown School classmates planning to attend Monday night’s game, but he resisted the responsibility of getting free tickets for those in the group. His reasoning was that he wants to keep his focus strictly on basketball.

``I didn’t get any tickets because it’s a whirlwind when you’ve got to do tickets and everything else,’’ Bamba said. ``But I’ll have a lot of familiar faces – friends and family in the crowd – so it will be nice.’’

OPEN PRACTICE: The Magic will host an open practice for fans at the Amway Center on Tuesday night, an event presented by Florida Hospital. There is no admission, but fans will be required to download tickets at for entry.

The night will include a question-and-answer session with a Magic player; there will be a NBA 2K experience with Magic Gaming; free parking will be offered at the GEICO Garage; Stuff and the Magic Dancers will perform; Levy Restaurants will have a 50 percent discount on select food and beverage purchases; and the Magic Team Store will have buy-one, get-one-free offers on select Nike merchandise.

Doors at the Amway Center will open at 5 p.m., while the practice is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. The question-and-answer session with a Magic player will begin at approximately 6:45 p.m. and the event is scheduled to end by 7 p.m.

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.

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