ORLANDO, Fla. — The last time that Jaquoree Shermon was this close to actual NBA players and coaches he was in the raucous Amway Center crowd in 2014 when the Orlando Magic beat Oklahoma City on a buzzer-beating dunk.
That night, Shermon made a guarantee to his buddy that the Magic would win the game and that’s just what happened when Orlando nipped the Thunder 103-102 in dramatic fashion.
On Wednesday, what Shermon took home with him might ultimately prove to be more valuable than the bragging rights from back in 2014.
Dressed in electric blue shorts and shoes, knee-high socks with Penny Hardaway’s iconic image on both sides and a baggy Magic FIT T-shirt, the 10-year-old Shermon got instruction from Magic guard Evan Fournier, head coach Frank Vogel and others from the organization at College Park Community Center in Orlando.
“This is so cool, getting to meet these guys and listen to them,” Shermon said in between drills with Magic assistant coachJay Hernandez. “I’m finally learning how to dribble the ball with my left hand, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to know how to do.”
Shermon was joined by about 120 children from the Rosemont and College Park Community Centers on Wednesday for the afternoon of instruction, which is the tip-off of the Orlando Magic Youth Academy. The Magic Academy, which is in its first year of operation, will focus on teaching life skills to youngsters through the game of basketball. The three areas of focus for the Magic Academy will be the Junior Magic Basketball Leagues, Magic Youth Camps and Clinics and Magic FIT.
At times on Wednesday it was difficult to tell who was having more fun: high-energy youngsters such as Jaquoree or Vogel, Orlando’s new head coach.
“I have young children and I’ve always enjoyed working with children,” said Vogel, who addressed the students before the drill work about the virtues of teamwork and togetherness. “When you have a setting like this where you can teach the game of basketball, spend some time with the kids and put some smiles on their faces and teach them some life lessons, it’s very rewarding to me.”
Fournier, who is coming off a career year with the Magic, said Wednesday that the long-term contract that he signed back in July will allow him to do more work in the Central Florida community in the years to come. Fournier started playing basketball when he was 8 years old in suburban Paris, and he hopes he can make a difference in the lives of children as basketball players and citizens.
“I remember as a young basketball player I always wanted to meet a professional player, but I never did. So it’s good for these kids to be able to meet players who have been involved in the game,” said Fournier, who has been back in Orlando the past three weeks to ready himself for the opening of the Magic’s training camp Sept. 27. “I’m just excited to be here and any way I can give back to young kids I want to do it.”
Magic FIT is the team’s fitness and nutrition education program for youth. The program’s goal is to encourage physical activity through playing basketball and healthy living for youth and families. Magic FIT will be a primary focus in the franchise’s youth basketball efforts this season with various events including the Magic FIT Kid Chef Cook Off and the Magic FIT Eight-Week Challenge.
Magic strength and conditioning coach Bill Burgos was also on hand for Wednesday’s Magic FIT Draft Combine, leading the children in stretching and calisthenics. Burgos also used the Quick Board Technology, a device used to measure children’s quickness and stamina levels while they rapidly churned their feet on padded sensors.
Former Magic players were also in attendance to impact the youth with their wisdom gleaned over the years. FOX Sports Florida color analyst and former Magic player Jeff Turner spoke to the kids before assisting them in a variety of drills. Other former players who participated included Magic community ambassadors Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw, who always know how to bring energy and enthusiasm while sharing valuable skills and life lessons to the youth.
The NBA has made developing youth basketball a primary emphasis for the upcoming season and the Magic clearly take their role in doing that in the Central Florida community seriously. As 120 kids bounced from station to station while learning many of the basics of basketball, Vogel marveled at the smiles and joy on the faces. And he couldn’t help but think about all of the good that the Magic were doing by instilling life lessons in the children through basketball.
“Our whole league has a big initiative to spread the valuable lessons of our game to the youth,” Vogel said. “This (camp) is one of the things that we’re doing in our community and it helps give back to the community and it also makes it fun for the kids.”
After addressing the children at the camp for several minutes, Vogel ended his speech by asking, “Who’s ready for the Magic to make the playoffs this season?” The question elicited a loud roar from the children, and Vogel followed it up by promising that Orlando would “make some noise” in the playoffs in the spring.
Out of the playoffs the past four years, Orlando was aggressive in the offseason by adding Vogel as head coach, re-signing Fournier, trading for Serge Ibaka, Jodie Meeks and C.J. Wilcox and signing Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green and D.J. Augustin. Several teams in the Eastern Conference upgraded their rosters this offseason, namely the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. But Vogel sees no reason why the Magic shouldn’t be right there in the playoff mix by the end of the coming season.
“Everybody is better, but so are we,” Vogel said with conviction. :We have a great deal of belief in our new team, the shape of our team and the new identity. The winning experience coming in with Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka and the system that I have, we have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be one of those teams that’s in the playoffs and make some noise in the playoffs.”
Vogel was asked on Wednesday if coaching the youth of Central Florida got his competitive juices flowing and made him ready for the Magic to open training camp later in the month. He admitted that he’s never really stopped thinking about basketball this summer, whether it’s envisioning the style of play the team will have, the rotations he will use or how the Magic can compensate for their supposed weaknesses of scoring and perimeter shooting.
“I’m excited that it’s right around the corner,” Vogel said. “But (youth initiatives) are a big part of what we do as the Orlando Magic. We want to compete for wins and compete for championships on the court, but we want to serve our community and try and improve our community. We want to try and touch the lives of children and give them some valuable life lessons. That’s what it’s really all about.”
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