By Josh Cohen
Nov. 10, 2017
LAKELAND – Michael Eaton, a longtime Orlando Magic fan who has lived in Lakeland the last several years, was ecstatic when he first learned the Magic’s G League team would be relocating to Polk County. Though he still will occasionally make the drive to Amway Center to watch his favorite team, Eaton plans to regularly come to the RP Funding Center to watch the club’s young talent in his backyard.
Alyssia Totten, similarly, who still vividly remembers when Orlando officially became an NBA city in 1989, thinks the Magic will now become part of the fabric of the Lakeland community.
Considering Eaton and Totten are so passionate about the Magic and their newborn team in Lakeland, it was no surprise they were both on hand for opening night. Part of an electric crowd on Friday that helped spur Lakeland to a 105-100 victory over the Canton Charge, they are proud to call the Lakeland Magic their home team.
“It’s awesome, it gives us a chance out here to have the availability and watch them here,” Eaton said.
“I became a basketball fan when the Orlando Magic started,” Totten said. “I’m really excited to be able to support the home team (Lakeland). I really feel like this will be our success.”
Orlando Magic CEO and G League Team Managing Partner Alex Martins sensed the tremendous joy and enthusiasm from the fans as soon as he walked into the building. The loyalty and passion the fans of Lakeland have for their sports teams was a big reason why the Magic chose this community to be the new home of the G League squad.
“This is incredibly exciting,” Martins said. “There are a lot of great sports fans here. There’s a lot of great enthusiasm. The corporate community has gotten behind us. We are in for a great year and a long run in Lakeland.”
The short distance between Orlando and Lakeland also played a role in moving the team to the RP Funding Center. Being able to have players – like Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch who combined for 40 points in the win over the Charge – play in a G League game one night and then practice with the big league club the next day will help Orlando develop talent more efficiently.
“That convenience is so helpful,” Lakeland Head Coach Stan Heath said. “It’s helpful for me as a coach because I went to the game and watched the (Orlando) Magic play, see coach (Frank) Vogel talk to their staff and just talk basketball. It’s a benefit for everybody.”
Iwundu, who along with Birch was assigned to Lakeland after Orlando’s victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday, felt the energy from the crowd and says this will be a tough building for opposing teams to play in.
“The crowd brought it today,” said Iwundu, who posted 31 points and nine rebounds. “It was great to see all the people that came out and support the G League team in Lakeland. There’s a lot to look forward to in the future.”
Many of Lakeland’s home games this season are scheduled on weekends, which is great for families with children. Much of what you experience at Orlando Magic games is what you will also see in Lakeland, including a live DJ, halftime acts, kids play areas and more. Learn about ticket options and how you can be a part of the fun by visiting http://lakeland.gleague.nba.com/season-ticket-membership/.
Iwundu recorded 31 points and nine rebounds and Troy Caupain made a few clutch shots down the stretch to lift Lakeland to a thrilling 105-100 win over Canton.
Playing at a pace similar to what we’ve seen from the big league club, the Magic made a concerted effort to speed up the tempo every chance they could. They also did a terrific job spacing the floor by driving and kicking out to open shooters on the perimeter.
Caupain hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final three minutes and finished with 23 points, while Jamel Artis, one of Orlando’s two-way contract players, scored 21 and sank two free throws with 6.4 seconds left to seal it.
Khem Birch, who posted nine points and 10 rebounds, drew a critical offensive foul on Kendrick Perkins in the final minute with Lakeland ahead by one.
“It’s good to get that one underneath our belt and get a win in front of our fans,” coach Heath said. “In the last two games when it’s become crunch time, last four or five minutes of the game, some guys have really stepped up on both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively.”