Together Again, Members of Lakeland Magic’s 2021 Championship Squad Share Special Bond

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

LAS VEGAS - Those who have played a team sport before at any level know based on their own experience just how critical team chemistry is. One of the main reasons it usually takes a few years before superstar players in the NBA win their first championship is because building chemistry with a supporting cast requires time and patience.

For a team like the Orlando Magic, who are in the embryonic stages of a rebuild, learning about which players mesh and what it will take for the young core to thrive together is a daily focus. We are seeing that play out in Las Vegas at NBA Summer League, particularly with the Magic’s three dynamic young guards. Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony and R.J. Hampton are in the process of learning each other’s skills and figuring out what it takes to flourish as a unit.

There is one branch of the Magic’s summer league squad that already has built championship-level chemistry. It’s between the five guys who together helped the Lakeland Magic capture the 2021 G League title.

Center Jon Teske, forwards D.J. Hogg and Justin Jackson and guards Jeff Dowtin and Tahjere McCall have reunited in Vegas with the Magic just a few months since taking part in that unforgettable championship journey at Walt Disney World.

Their bond is both special and noticeable. It’s a boost, Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley says, to have a portion of the group who not only are already familiar with one another but also share something that the others on the team can get inspired by.

“That’s where the energy comes from,” Mosley said. “A lot of these guys are just fitting right into that because they also understand what it takes to win. It’s not just about the result at the end of the game. It’s about the daily habits. You see why the energy is so high here because they understand the habits that it takes to get into winning basketball.”

Lakeland’s championship run culminated last spring with a blowout victory over the Delaware Blue Coats in the Finals. Teske, the starting center that night just like he was in the Magic’s summer league opener against the Golden State Warriors, cherishes that entire G League experience. It helped him grow as a player and he’s using that success as a source of motivation.

At 7-foot-1, 265 pounds with a soft touch inside and a developing 3-point shot, the former University of Michigan standout is looking to show NBA front office personnel that he belongs in the NBA.

“Show the coaches what I’m capable of, how I can play, how I’ve improved in the offseason,” he said. “I just have to go out there and do my job and help the team win in any way I can.”

The same applies for the 6-foot-3, 185-pound Dowtin, a savvy, crafty and versatile point guard who scored nine points and dished out three assists in Monday’s win over the Warriors. He, too, has some added confidence stemming from that G League championship run.

It brings a wide smile to his face whenever he reflects on that experience, which taught him all about perseverance. Let’s remember, Lakeland didn’t start off so hot. They were 4-5 at one point and lost two straight games by double digits before turning around their season with five victories in their last six regular season games to advance to the playoffs.

That mindset has carried over to summer league and it showed in the opener against the Warriors when the Magic rallied from a second-half double-digit deficit.

“You can just see the way we play together, the way we are jelling,” said Dowtin, who played his college ball at Rhode Island. “We have chemistry. We’ve been together for a year now. It’s just been great and that flows on the court.”

Key to Lakeland’s success ever since the team relocated to Polk County in 2017 has been the commitment from the DeVos family, Magic CEO Alex 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.

The two main architects of Lakeland’s roster, General Manager Anthony Parker and Assistant GM Tunji Adedipe, have done an amazing job bringing in players who are not only talented but also driven by team success, which Lakeland has had a lot of.

In their inaugural 2017-18 season, they reached the postseason. The following year, they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Before the G League’s 2019-20 season had to be canceled a little after the midway point because of the pandemic, they were in position to make another deep playoff run. And most recently, after entering the 2021 postseason as the No. 6 seed, Lakeland captured the franchise’s first championship.