ORLANDO, Fla. - Victor Oladipo bent over almost double so that he could look directly into the tiny child’s eyes as he taught him a ball-handling drill Saturday morning on the Orlando Magic’s practice court.
It was then that it hit Oladipo that he was once on the other side of the equation, peering up at a NBA player, listening intently to every instruction and wanting to be just like the star player someday.
For that reason, Oladipo poured his energy and focus into trying to help young kids grow their games on Saturday morning at a children’s camp conducted by the Magic. For more than an hour prior to the team’s practice on Saturday morning, all of the Magic’s players and coaches were on the court with approximately 150 kids to offer instruction and encouragement.
Oladipo, a 21-year-old NBA rookie, knows firsthand that words coming from an NBA player can have a profound effect on a kid’s life. He eagerly wants to be the kind of role model that others can look to for advice and inspiration.
“I take it really seriously being a role model for kids. I know growing up I had a few role models in my life. It’s crazy now for me to be in a position where little kids call you a role model; I still feel like I’m a kid myself,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great to be out here and interact with them. A kid came up to me and said, ‘You guys act totally different than you do when you play and it’s kind of cool.’ For them to say stuff like that, it’s great. To be able to change a kid’s life, and do something that they’ll never forget, it’s pretty cool.”
Jay and Joi Martin of suburban Orlando looked on Saturday morning as their 11-year-old twins got to pick up tips from various Magic players. Davis Martin, a fifth-grader, fashions himself as an outside shooter and said that he most enjoyed learning from Magic forward Andrew Nicholson. Wade Martin, who plays on two different teams along with his twin brother, said he will put the cross-over dribble move taught to him by Oladipo to use in recreation league games in the near future.
“The camp is amazing. I had no idea that all of the players would be here. It’s very interactive and the kids are learning so much. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things for them,” said Joi, mom to Davis and Wade. “These kinds of camps enforce a love for basketball and that they have to keep practicing if they want to be really good. Something like this will fire them up and encourage them to go out and practice shooting.”
Added Jay, the boys’ father: “The Magic did an excellent job of putting this camp together with all of the players working with the kids. It kind of shows the commitment of the team to the kids.”
Magic Head Coach Jacque Vaughn was so committed to teaching at the clinic that he once sprawled down on his back and shuffled a ball back and forth between his scissoring legs. He wanted to show the children a drill that they could do inside their houses to better their ball-handling abilities. And he repeatedly stressed to the children the need for daily practice and wanting to improve.
“That’s always so much fun to do and I think you see our players out there enjoying themselves, too,” said Vaughn, who had 6-foot-9 power forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis playfully work with the children on their defensive stance and slide steps at the beginning of the camp. “Our players saw how hard it is to coach, too. They are trying to teach a kid how to shoot a layup and throw the correct bounce pass, but it’s a good way to start the morning off.”
Vaughn knows all-to-well the impact that meeting a professional athlete can have on a child. A Los Angeles native, Vaughn once rode the bus to Inglewood, Calif., and waited outside of The Forum for hours to get an autograph from Earvin “Magic” Johnson. That meeting, Vaughn said, played a major role in him wanting to someday be a professional basketball player.
“Those guys will remember that for a long time, being able to go buy a poster or pin-up (of a certain player) and then realize that you have met that guy,” Vaughn said of the kids’ opportunities to interact with the Magic players. “I’ll never forget people that I’ve met along the way.”