No one could blame Franz Wagner for holding his head a bit higher.
The gold medal at the FIBA World Cup is not the kind of weight that brings you down. It is the kind of weight that lifts you up. He was a key part in Germany’s historic breakthrough for its first world title and a reason why that program figures to compete for championships for the next few cycles — including next year’s 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Wagner took most of the three weeks off after returning from the Philippines — although not completely off, he still had to get himself physically ready for the start of training camp. There is always a new season to prepare for even after a summer to celebrate and grow.
Coach Jamahl Mosley talked glowingly of the experience that Franz Wagner — along with his brother Moe Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Goga Bitadze and Joe Ingles — got from the FIBA World Cup this summer. It put them in different scenarios and situations than they might normally see with the Magic.
It was a new experience that they would bring to the team.
That is perhaps the one thing the team is short on. Experience.
The Orlando Magic do not have a ton of experience in big games. They are trying to gather what knowledge they have from pressure situations to help build their focus for the upcoming season.
Jonathan Isaac said during media day he felt this was the most talented team he has been a part of since joining the Magic (he is the longest-tenured player on the roster). The only thing they were missing was experience — Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz, Joe Ingles and Gary Harris are the only players with playoff experience.
That is a deficit the team is trying to make up as best they can even if it is only through their own grit, determination and optimism about their future. And so every experience the team can get from wherever they can get it to learn how to play in meaningful games is important for the team.
"“It’s not changing a whole lot, but I definitely learned a lot,” Franz Wagner said of his World Cup experience Thursday. “What I learned I want to bring to this. At the end of the day, this is basketball and we’re trying to build a winning culture. Being part of that team. I think there are certain things that I learned from that we can apply to our group. I think we’re doing that already. That’s my responsibility and that’s still the role I’m stepping into and making sure I bring that to the other guys a little bit.”"
There is no substituting NBA Playoff experience. A seven-game series is its own animal. And Orlando is definitely missing the elements of playing those kinds of games — Isaac said during media day that after winning Game 1 of the 2019 series with the Toronto Raptors he said, “We have to do that three more times?”
This season is about trying to get the Magic a taste of that experience so they can absorb and grow from it.
For now, the Magic are trying to use the experiences they have gained to try to advance and grow.
That is part of what the World Cup likely did for a player like Wagner and for Banchero. It put those players in must-win, pressure-packed, high-intensity games for the first time in their professional careers. It may not have been the NBA or a seven-game series, but it was something they could bring home to the Magic.
The Magic are hoping that intensity and their new understanding of what it takes to compete at the highest levels come over to Orlando.
"“I think their intensity turns up because being around other great players and competing at a high level, you tend to raise the bar,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Thursday. “They continue to raise the bar not just with themselves but with their teammates as well.”"
The team’s focus and intensity have played a big part of the narrative in the early part of training camp. The team has noted that there is a lot of focus on details as the team tries to grow. On top of that, the team is intently focused on getting off to a good start to make sure they do not fall into a deficit as they did last year when they started 5-20 and behind the 8-ball.
Any extra intensity or focus they can get from the parts they have experienced will help for sure.
The team is certainly a year older and maturity is part of that equation too. Wagner said he definitely feels more confident in himself. He is feeling the responsibility of being one of the team’s leaders — another area he is being asked to mature, grow and step up.
That is the other place this team is trying to find experience and learn. They are trying to hold each other accountable and keep each other on the same page.
The excitement and intensity for this season have helped the team stay motivated. But here too, everyone is trying to lift each other up as the team tries to make up this experience deficit.
The team is growing together and eager to keep learning.
"“I think it’s just we’re all locked in and working toward the same goal,” Harris said after practice Thursday. “I’m not saying that we weren’t doing that last year. Just going through the season last year and the ups and downs and starting off slow and coming together and making the Play-In push. Guys came in motivated. Guys know the goal is to make the playoffs. We have all been pushing each other and holding each other accountable. It’s a competitive vibe. It’s fun. People like coming in here to work. It’s easy, it’s fun and camp has been great so far.”"
Motivation can certainly take the team far. But if there is a reason to doubt this group, it is that inexperience. It is that they have not done it before.
And so the Magic are going to have to prove that they belong and that they can make the gains the players believe they can make.
The team is certainly not starting from scratch. Orlando got itself into the postseason chase last year. That has only added to the confidence of what this team is capable of. They just have to make it last for 82 games.
"“I would just say we are building on what we did last year,” Wagner said after practice Thursday. “I felt that shift a lot last year. I thought we played really well in the second half of the season basically maybe even a little bit more. We’re just building on what we did last year.”"
That is why so much of the focus for this team has been on growing the details and being attentive to the little things it takes to win. So much of that is about preparation so that when new situations come up, the team will be ready when they cannot lean on experience.
And so the team is going to lean on the experiences they have.
That could be coming from the FIBA World Cup or from last year. But there are still lots of experiences to gain and lots of areas the team needs to grow.