LAS VEGAS – Since Orlando Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley’s arrival, the team has preached the importance of creating a family-like environment in their locker room.
Often, that’s easier said than done. However, on the one-year anniversary of Mosley’s hire, it’s evident that the Magic are cultivating something special.
Throughout last season, fans began to see glimpses of the unit’s unique bond through interviews, locker room celebrations, and authentic interactions with one another on social media. And this summer league, it’s clear as day that their head coach’s tenet of supporting teammates and celebrating each other’s success has taken root up and down the roster.
To a man, every single player on the Magic’s roster has either come out to one of the team’s summer league practices or made their way out to Las Vegas to take in one of Orlando’s games. In many cases, players have done both.
“Jamahl and his whole staff have really been amazing at just completely giving themselves over to our players, on the court (and) off the court,” said Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman on ESPN’s Magic-Kings game broadcast. “(They’re) establishing a community and a togetherness that you can even feel during these games. Our whole team is here. These guys, even our vet guys (like) Gary (Harris), feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Ultimately, if you can get guys in this league to feel that way and believe in each other, generally good things are going to happen.”
Just like fans who’ve made their way out to Vegas to get a firsthand look at the 2022 NBA Draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Paolo Banchero, Magic players were equally as interested to meet their newest teammate and see firsthand what the 6-foot-10, 250-pound forward can do.
Shortly after the draft, Magic guard Cole Anthony connected with Banchero to go through an offseason workout. Videos of their drills surfaced on social media with the pair even connecting for an off-the-backboard alley-oop slam.
Wendell Carter Jr. was among the players to come out to Orlando’s summer league training camp at the AdventHealth Practice Facility at Amway Center as he was eager to take the floor with his newest frontcourt mate and fellow Duke alum.
“Even just me running up and down with Paolo (during camp), he’s a very unselfish player,” said Carter, who was on the receiving end of a beautiful pocket pass from Banchero during one session. “He plays to win, and he plays the right way. I think just him going to Duke, I feel like that definitely helped a lot with just learning how to win. They win over there at Duke, so he understands what it takes and I’m here to just help him get better and help him tap into that potential that we all see in him.”
As excited as Carter was for the frontcourt’s future after stepping on the court with Banchero, the Magic’s rookie was equally taken aback by how quickly a chemistry emerged with the fellow big man.
“It felt totally natural,” said Banchero of the workout. “We were playing off each other really well. I had a couple of assists to him, a couple of drop offs. So, just playing with him and getting used to him. (With) that being the first time, it was a great start.”
Those interactions have meant the world to Banchero, who’s shined in his first two summer league outings, averaging 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.5 steals, and one block per game.
“It’s been great just connecting with them," he said. "They’re all great guys. Being around the team, working out with us. They just tell me to be myself, just have fun with it, (and) play to win. All the stuff I’ve been doing. They’re great guys to have around for sure.”
While outpouring of team support for Banchero has been astounding, it has not been limited to just the first overall pick. All the players who stepped on the floor for the Magic last season – R.J. Hampton, Devin Cannady, Admiral Schofield and Aleem Ford – have felt the support as has rookie Caleb Houstan.
Even those battling for a spot in the NBA like Emanuel Terry have noticed the exceptional environment. As Terry connected on a game-winning layup to give Orlando a double-overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings, he witnessed a platoon of Magic players storm the court from the sideline to join in on the jubilation. While that was certainly a memorable moment for the 25-year-old, he was even more appreciative for the on-the-court advice he’s received from Magic players and staff since being added to Orlando’s summer league roster.
“I love the family over in Orlando. They’re very family oriented,” said Terry, who would know something about locker room environments considering he’s played for 10 professional teams in his career so far. “Since day one, they’ve shown me love and got me out of my comfort zone. You’ve never seen me shoot threes before, right? It’s crazy. … It’s given me confidence to expand my game.”
And that’s exactly what’s at the core of what Mosley is attempting to construct in Orlando. Along with brotherly bonds, he’s aiming to build confidence in players, instill strong practice habits and implement team identities on both ends of the floor.
“I think the foundation has been laid of just the way in which we’re going to work every single day,” said Mosley on the ESPN game broadcast. “Understanding that win or lose, we have the same amount of pressure defensively, the same amount of activity defensively, offensively being willing to share the basketball. Again, us understanding how we have to work and competing.”
With just two players on their roster that are over the age of 25 (Harris and Terrence Ross), there’s a lot of work to be done.
The Magic’s young core features seven lottery selections, including Banchero, Markelle Fultz (first overall - 2017), Jalen Suggs (fifth overall - 2021), Jonathan Isaac (sixth overall - 2017), Mo Bamba (sixth overall – 2018), Carter (seventh overall - 2018), and Franz Wagner (eighth overall - 2021). Along with the aforementioned players, promising young pieces like Anthony, Bol Bol, Cannady, Hampton, Chuma Okeke, and Moe Wagner also fall in the 25-or-under category.
“You want have them to grow up with the understanding of what it takes to win,” said Weltman. “In this league, role orientation wins. The glue for that, why we’re really excited, is that it takes high-character guys to understand that and to understand the concept of what we’re trying to build here. Every one of those guys (at summer league) gets that. We have a really high character group of guys.”
As Weltman explained, while some locker rooms might struggle with that much youth and players who are looking to take their games to the next level, the Magic believe they have the right makeup to make it work.
“I look it as a blessing,” said Anthony to ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth. “We get to go up against those dudes every single day in practice. It just gives us a chance to all get better. You know, they say iron sharpens iron.”
It all goes back to the culture set in place by their head coach.
“You see our guys rooting for one another from our roster that are here,” Mosley said. “Pushing the guys. Willing to work every single day. Supporting one another. I think it’s just fantastic.”