The Orlando Magic are eager to integrate two rookies in Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke. But it will be a challenge to get them up to speed in a shortened camp
Cole Anthony has been around NBA players and in NBA gyms his entire life.
His father, 11-year pro and NBATV analyst Greg Anthony, helped expose him to the NBA world. As Cole Anthony emerged as a potential prospect, he would go on runs with NBA players including Kevin Durant, Aaron Gordon and J.R. Smith in his hometown of New York.
Still, this is different. This is a NBA practice in a NBA facility with NBA coaches. It is all different.
And no matter how prepared a player can be, there is nothing like the NBA experience. Something always catches them by surprise.
For Cole Anthony in his first day of training camp with the Magic it was Evan Fournier. Coach Steve Clifford wanted to get the team organized a bit and then let them play to get their rhythm back after the team facility was closed to group workouts for much of the shortened offseason.
Anthony was on Fournier’s team and was blown away by how good a shooter Fournier was, making his job easier. Anthony will not have to carry the scoring load like he did at North Carolina.
There is still a feeling out process as there would be for any rookie. But Anthony is diving into the process.
"“It was a really good practice,” Anthony said after practice Friday. “Just everyone has been, especially like the guards’ side and the bigs, have been really welcoming. Just trying to make sure not just me but everyone else is new here gets accustomed to the system. I’m super happy to be here. I’m ready to play.”"
For Chuma Okeke, the moment that he knew he was in the NBA came in the group workouts. He was playing Terrence Ross one on one and Ross blew by him. That taught him how quick NBA players are and required an adjustment.
Chuma Okeke has not played since March 2019 and is trying to test his rehabbed knee while catching up to the NBA level of play. It is a whole process for sure and something the Magic continue to monitor even as he goes through full contact in practice.
"“I had a good time, it was fun being back on the court,” Chuma Okeke said after his first practice Friday. “It has been a very long time since I have been back on the court. I just have to get my legs back under me and got to get court conditioned and hopefully everything will turn out good.”"
That long layover is a concern during this shortened training camp. Just like the fact Anthony has not played since March and missed out on a Summer League and an offseason mini-camp before his first training camp.
There is a lot to catch up on and little time to get them all done.
Those players are diving right into a new challenge with little time to prep. And with the Magic likely relying on both Anthony and Okeke to play major roles off the bench right off the bat, there is little time to lose despite the strangeness of this season.
"“They are going to have to be quick learners,” Clifford said during a teleconference Tuesday. “To be honest with you, I think they are. We have to help them progress at a rate so we are putting them in situations where they can have success. I watched a lot of both of their college games. They are both players with good IQ. I think they can both be good on both ends of the floor.”"
Clifford said he played Anthony exclusively at point guard and Okeke at power forward during the first day of training camp. He said that would be the way things started.
But Clifford said he expects both to be able to be major contributors by the end of the season. It may not be immediate, but he is confident both can develop quickly with this team.
That is a pretty strong endorsement from Clifford. But they still have to prove themselves and progress.
He said he has been impressed with Anthony’s competitiveness through his tape at North Carolina. Steve Clifford said he spoke to North Carolina coach Roy Williams and took some ideas on how to use Cole Anthony from his college days.
Similarly, Clifford said he was impressed with how Okeke was a sponge in his time with the Lakeland Magic, trying to soak up and absorb as much as he could from the sidelines.
He believes Okeke’s versatility and shooting along with Anthony’s scoring ability are both things the Magic needed to find, giving them skills they did not previously have. It will take some time for it to develop.
It started with a first practice.
"“I thought they both played fine,” Clifford said after practice Friday. “They both had stretches where they made a lot of plays. I think they both picked things up quickly. They are both smart. They both have a good feel for basketball. I’m excited about both of them. I thought they both did well.”"
But he said they are at a major disadvantage because of all the things they missed during a regular offseason. Clifford is trying to catch up his team’s rookies while also catching up the rest of his roster for a season that is starting in just two and a half weeks.
There will be a lot to learn for all of them. Everyone is trying to play catch up.
But it will be most difficult for the rookies trying to adjust to an entirely new league and level of basketball. They are both going to be leaning on veteran players to help them.
Both Anthony and Okeke said the older players have been welcoming to them as things get started.
"“I would say a couple of things: One, relax,” Gordon said in a media teleconference Thursday. “There is a certain level of poise this league takes. The next thing I would say is find your niche. Do what you do best. Whether it is defense or rebound or the game within the game. Whether you are a great teammate, whether it is your passing ability or playmaking ability.“The third thing I would tell them is you were drafted for a reason. There is a reason that you are here. They wouldn’t have drafted you if they didn’t want you or didn’t like you, and see what you see in yourself.”"
That is similar to the advice Anthony said he got from his father. Anthony said he just wants to be here to learn and soak up as much as possible.
Okeke said he got similar advice from teammates. He said teammates have told him at the end of the day, it is just basketball and you just have to have fun. Learning the plays will come with the more comfort he has on the floor.
How quickly they will be able to contribute and step onto the floor will get determined in these early moments in training camp. It will undoubtedly be a challenge for them and other rookies around the league as they try to get used to this new league.