LAKELAND - In 2017 when the Orlando Magic brought their G League team to Lakeland, just an hour away from downtown Orlando by car, Magic Chairman Dan DeVos and CEO Alex Martins both stated the relocation gave the team the best opportunity to develop their young players and extend the Magic brand across Central Florida.
Now four years later and the Magic have not only succeeded in achieving those objectives, but they’ve also accomplished some amazing things with their play on the court.
Coming into this G League season, Lakeland was tied for the most regular season wins in the league. Playing in the Disney bubble last winter, they won the franchise’s first championship, blowing out the competition during the playoffs.
On Saturday, they celebrated that historic triumph with their fans at the RP Funding Center. The first 1,000 fans who entered the arena received a replica banner. A ring ceremony preceded their game against the Texas Legends, the minor league affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’m really happy for the guys. They played so well in the bubble,” Martins said. “Unfortunately, our fans didn’t get an opportunity to be there in person to see it, but it’s great to be here in person to see them receive their rings and enjoy the fruits of their labor.”
Key to the team’s success has been the commitment from the DeVos family, Martins, minority owner Steve Demetriou, Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and General Manager John Hammond, all of whom have been instrumental in creating a winning culture in Lakeland.
Connecting the Magic to more fans across Central Florida remains a top priority. Having their G League team back in Lakeland after a year-and-a-half away due to the pandemic is certainly going to help drive that in the right direction.
“When we first came here, there was some doubt from Lakeland of how supportive we would be having a team here and we wanted to encourage and instill in them that we are here to stay,” DeVos said. “This is an important part of the Magic organization, and it’s proven to be that. And they see the players go back and forth, working just exactly how it was designed, and I think it’s a great addition to the Magic organization.”
A couple members of last season’s title squad are back to try and repeat as G League champs. One of them is Devin Cannady, the Most Valuable Player of the 2021 Finals after scoring 22 points in that championship contest against the Delaware Blue Coats.
Although not yet ready to return to the court after suffering an open fracture in his right ankle shortly after signing a two-way contract with the Magic last spring, the 6-foot-2, 183-pound guard is ecstatic to be back in a familiar and family-oriented environment.
“The biggest thing obviously starts with my health,” he said about why he elected to return to the Magic and their G League squad. “Having a group that understands not only just who I am being in this organization both in Orlando and Lakeland, but the injury as well. I had a couple opportunities to go to training camps with different teams, but at the end of the day I think having that comfortability here with Orlando and Lakeland with obviously so many great people on the medical staff to look after me. I also feel like I can not only contribute here in Lakeland, but as well in Orlando. So hopefully being back under that umbrella will help that cause and I think my biggest thing is to grow – as a leader, as a person, as a man on and off the court.”
Also back is Jon Teske, the 24-year-old center out of Michigan who for two straight seasons has been with the Magic for training camp and the preseason. In 15 regular season games with Lakeland at Disney last season, he averaged 6.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. His offensive play elevated during the postseason, scoring 10.7 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field.
“It’s a great organization to play for, be a part of,” he said. “I (represent) them on my chest. I wear that proudly. It’s an honor to me, in the NBA and the G League. Not many players get to this level. It’s truly a blessing to be a part of this organization. I just got to make the most of it. Do what I do, help the team win any way I can and just try to improve my game each and every day.”
Taking over as Lakeland’s head coach this year after Stan Heath returned to the college ranks to take the reins at Eastern Michigan, his alma mater, is Joe Barrer, an assistant under Heath each of the past four seasons. A big part of Lakeland’s success since inception, Barrer is excited to work in unison with Jamahl Mosley. The two share very similar principles, which bodes well for the development of the Magic’s young talent.
When he agreed to become the 15th head coach in Magic history, Mosley was elated knowing the team’s G League squad has had so much success the last few seasons. From his experience, it’s critical to have everyone across all arms of the organization on the same page with the same goals.
Spending much of his early coaching career working with young players, he’s aware of the impact the G League can make, not only on their basketball skills but also on their minds and bodies.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic the job that they’ve done and the job that they continue to do of keeping it all together,” Mosley said. “Bringing it in as one family. It’s really, really good. It just speaks to what they’ve done and speaks to the work that they’ve put in and staying connected.”
With Anthony Parker now an assistant GM for the Magic’s parent club, Adetunji Adedipe takes over as Lakeland’s GM. He’s brought back a few familiar faces. B.J. Johnson and Hassani Gravett, members of Lakeland’s 2019-20 team, join Cannady and Teske as players coming back for a second stint with the Magic’s G League squad.