By John Denton
August 9, 2017
LAKELAND – Determined to make sure that the relationship between the Orlando Magic and the G League’s Lakeland Magic is a seamless, symbiotic one, the picks for Lakeland’s GM and head coach positions proved to be someone very familiar with the NBA parent club and one with close ties to Central Florida’s basketball culture.
Anthony Parker, a former Magic player and a scout with the organization for the past seasons, quickly emerged as the pick to run the Lakeland franchise as its first General Manager. Meanwhile, Stan Heath – someone who led nearby USF to two 20-win seasons and a NCAA Tournament berth – was the choice as Lakeland’s head coach because of his strong ties to the area and his willingness to structure his team’s playing style closely to that of the NBA’s Magic.
A Magic organization that purchased the Erie (Pa.) Bayhawks eight months ago and moved it to Lakeland has big plans for the fledgling franchise. It is confident that the two operations will work closely together to create success for both.
“It’s incredibly important that it’s absolutely seamless between the parent club and the G League club and the proximity between the two is really going to help,’’ said Magic CEO Alex Martins, who attended the introductory news conference for Parker and Heath on Wednesday at Lakeland’s Simpson Park Community Center. “Everybody will be able to come back and forth on a regular basis – players, coaches and personnel, etc. … For the first time in our organization’s history we’ll truly have a strong player development program with the minor league system and the parent club working in concert with each other.’’
In addition to introducing their new GM and coach on Wednesday, the Lakeland Magic held their first-ever youth camp at The Simpson Park Community Center. Parker and Heath addressed the teenage and elementary school-aged campers, giving them encouragement to work hard, develop their skills and keep their dreams alive.
Lakeland’s Adarius Lee, 15, was one of the instructors at the youth camp and he said he couldn’t be more excited about Polk County having a professional basketball team. The 5-foot-8 sophomore, who had 22 points and nine assists in a game for George Jenkins High School this past season, hopes that he can someday make it to the NBA as a point guard.
“I think it’s so cool that we’ve got a pro team and now we don’t have to travel to another city; we can just stay in our hometown, watch some good basketball and have fun,’’ Lee said. “This team is going to draw a lot of attention here. We’re new and people are going to see something that’s all new. Now we have our own team and that’s going to draw a lot of attention here.’’
Parker, 42, has worked for the Magic for the past five seasons as a scout both domestically and abroad. Prior to that, Parker played in 494 NBA games over nine seasons with Philadelphia, Orlando, Toronto and Cleveland. The older brother of WNBA superstar Candace Parker, Anthony averaged 9.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists and shot 40.4 percent from 3-point range in his NBA career. Additionally, he spent six seasons playing professionally in Europe where he won two EuroLeague MVP awards, two EuroLeague championships and five Israeli National Cups.
He feels that all of that experience will help him in learning to be a solid GM in Lakeland. Parker hopes to someday run a NBA franchise, and he can think of no better place to gain experience than with a G League franchise that is strongly supported by the Magic.
“It’s a very intriguing job and any time you do something for the first time there’s going to be a learning process and there will be growth involved,’’ Parker said. “I’m excited about the challenge and I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ve been reaching out to some of my (NBA) friends who have experience doing it (as a GM). But to me, a lot of it is about surrounding yourself with good people and we have that with the addition of Coach Heath, (Lakeland Team President) Shelly (Wilkes) and our team staff in Orlando has been tremendous.’’
Heath, who guided Kent State and Arkansas to magical runs through the NCAA Tournament, coached at USF from 2007-2014 and he quickly pointed out on Wednesday that his family never moved out of Tampa. Not only is he excited about being back in basketball in the Central Florida area, but he is eager to work with Vogel and model the Lakeland franchise after that of the Magic. That will be important, Heath said, when players are shuttled back and forth between Orlando and Lakeland for development opportunities.
“Any time, especially in the preseason, that I can go to the (Magic) practices and workouts and learn and see what they are doing, I’m going to do it,’’ said Heath, 52, who got USF to the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12 (winning two games) and to the NIT in 2009-10. “I’ll be watching (Magic) film and games and picking up things and having a relationship with their (coaching) staff. I can pick their brains on what they are doing and adjustments that they are making and what I need to look at here.’’
Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman led the search for Lakeland’s coach and GM positions and he added that there was a host of candidates for both highly coveted spots. As someone who has worked in the NBA for 28 years in a variety of positions, Weltman will serve as a mentor to Parker as a GM and he’ll keep an open communication with Health about the development of the players under the Magic’s control.
Weltman likes that both men have ties to the area and are eager to keep build a strong bridge between the Magic in Orlando and the G League team in Lakeland.
“I love the fact that both Anthony and Stan are locals, this is where they live and they didn’t move here to take this job. They feel a part of this community,’’ Weltman said. “It has to be a symbiotic relationship (between Orlando and Lakeland) and that’s why the Magic have moved the franchise to Lakeland. It’s very important that Stan will be running a lot of what Coach Vogel runs and have the same terminology. And as players go back and forth, there won’t be an adjustment period. From a player’s standpoint, a coaching standpoint and a management standpoint, we want to be able to use the (G League) franchise that way.’’
Lakeland will play its 24 home games at the RP Funding Center. The NBA G League season is made up of a 50-game regular season, plus a postseason, and the season runs from November to April. Season ticket deposits for the 2017-18 season are now being accepted by calling 863-825-3258 or by logging onto LakelandMagic.com.
Wilkes said the response from the Lakeland community about having the Magic in Polk County has been extremely positive. She is also delighted that basketball fans in the area will now have a GM and coach to become some of the first faces of the franchise.
“It’s nice to finally be able to answer the question – which has been everyone’s burning question – about who our GM and coach are going to be,’’ Wilkes said with a laugh. “We’re excited to welcome Anthony and Stan to the Lakeland family. We’re excited to introduce the City of Lakeland, Polk County, Tampa and all of these (basketball fans) to who the Lakeland Magic are. We’re really excited about getting the basketball side of it going.’’
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