Mo Bamba Eager to Take Floor in Magic's Summer League Opener

by John Denton

LAS VEGAS – The last time Mo Bamba played in an NBA game, it was Jan. 31 and the 7-footer had a three-point play in the fourth quarter to knot the score against the Indiana Pacers – a foe the Orlando Magic ultimately defeated to begin their stirring late-season run to the playoffs.

Bamba was a spectator for much of that run to the postseason because of a stress fracture in his left tibia. Mercifully, his time the sidelines will come to an end on Friday night when the Magic begin play in the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League.

``I’m just very anxious to get out there – that’s the best way to describe it,’’ Bamba said with a giddy grin.

Bamba’s excitement for Orlando’s Summer League opener against the San Antonio Spurs (11 p.m. ET, NBA TV) could be seen on Thursday when the Magic wrapped up final preparations in practice at UNLV. While head coach Pat Delany took the team through a light workout designed to get the players’ legs back under them, Bamba was dialed into the drills and even willing to mix it up inside in sessions that weren’t necessarily meant to include contact.

``The plan for practice today was to ease it down a little bit, but I wanted to keep it going as far as contact stuff just to get more of a rhythm,’’ Bamba said with conviction. ``Honestly, my mindset is that I’m happy to be out there. I want to go out there and dominate, but it’s been so long since I’ve been out there running up and down under a whistle, I’m just appreciative to be out there.’’

An Orlando roster highlighted by the inclusion of Bamba, two-way player Amile Jefferson, former UCF standouts B.J. Taylor and Chad Brown and a host of Lakeland Magic products will play at least five games this week in Las Vegas. The Magic are also scheduled to face the Nuggets (July 7, 6 p.m. ET, NBA TV), Heat (July 9, 4 p.m., ESPN 2) and Nets (July 10, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN U) before playing one more game in tournament play.

Much has been made of the bulk that Bamba has added to his frame, but the 7-footer said his biggest area of growth has been his maturity in reading the game. Formerly a frail 220 pounds, Bamba used his downtime away from basketball to bulk up to more than 240 pounds and he now has noticeable definition in his legs and arms.

In addition to his weight room work, Bamba spent big chunks of time studying game film and compiling scouting reports. Magic head coach Steve Clifford and assistant coach Mike Batiste had Bamba put together reports from games to make sure he was still growing mentally while he was out with the leg injury. That work seems to be paying off now in a big way for the studious and inquisitive Bamba.

``I’m starting to see things that I didn’t necessarily see last year or even in the season,’’ said Bamba, who averaged 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.36 blocks in 47 games as an NBA rookie. ``The game has slowed down, and I think it’s only going to get easier with the amount of spacing and discipline that we have in our offense. I’m really trying to use this as a way to get reps to get better for next year.’’

While Bamba’s full focus is on his return to basketball on Friday, there is a part of him that is particularly curious as to what will happen with the free agency of Toronto superstar Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA Finals MVP led the Raptors to their first title in June, but he is reportedly considering playing elsewhere next season.

Leonard and Bamba have been friends for years, and that bond only grew closer two seasons ago when Leonard played for San Antonio and Bamba attended the University of Texas in nearby Austin. This past season, Bamba and Leonard spent some down time together in Orlando, but they haven’t talked in months about Leonard’s decision that could sway the balance of power in the NBA.

``I know him pretty well, but I honestly have no idea where he’s going to end up,’’ said Bamba, who first met Leonard years ago through a family connection. ``But I know (Leonard is) going to make the best decision for himself. I’m actually really excited to see where he ends up.

``Our relationship is, honestly, very unique,’’ Bamba added, referring to the friendship with Leonard. ``He reached out to me – I didn’t reach out to him – and he just wanted to be that mentor for me whenever I needed him. He was there for me when I was at Texas and, really, nothing has changed since then.’’

The biggest change these days for Bamba is that he’s about to be a part of game action for the first time in more than five months. Hardly the nervous type, Bamba said he’s eager to go out in Friday’s game and show just how much he’s improved as a player – both physically and mentally – during his time away from playing.

``Honestly, everything I want to do out there is internal,’’ Bamba said. ``I want to be the best version of myself and continue to make strides.’’

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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