By John Denton
Aug. 30, 2017
ORLANDO – Wesley Iwundu was approximately 1,000 miles away from his hometown of Houston when Hurricane Harvey lashed the nation’s fourth-largest city with damaging winds and unfathomably high floodwaters.
Even though he was safe and well out of harm’s way, the Orlando Magic rookie forward felt a great sense of pain and helplessness because he couldn’t be there to aid and protect those that he loves the most.
Iwundu, the 33rd overall pick of this past June’s NBA Draft, not only hails from Houston, but he said that “30-to-40’’ of his family members still live there. His family members were there in Southeast Texas this past weekend as Hurricane Harvey battered the region and sent floodwaters surging into the city.
Already in Orlando to prepare for the start of his first NBA training camp, Iwundu could only look on from afar in horror as television footage showed his city being swamped with water. Iwundu’s family emerged safe from the catastrophe, suffering water damage to a few homes, but the 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward spoke on Wednesday of feeling powerless as his family and his hometown endured several days of horrific conditions.
“It’s definitely been devastating because I am from there and it’s a beautiful place. When you see your city going through all of the flooding like that, it’s heartbreaking,’’ said Iwundu, who grew up in the Spring section of Houston and was a prep star at Westfield High School. “With me having a lot of family there, it was really tough. Some of them have been hit hard by it, but they’re doing fine now and making their way through it.’’
Iwundu, 22, is one of three Magic players with direct ties to the Houston region. Houston native Jonathon Simmons, who left the San Antonio Spurs in July to sign a free-agent contract with the Magic, was forced to boat to safety and wade through knee-deep waters on Tuesday after being holed up in a friend’s suburban Houston home all throughout the weekend. Additionally, D.J. Augustin – whose family left New Orleans for Houston in 2005 to escape the deadly effects of Hurricane Katrina – still has family in Southeast Texas.
The NBA family is working with a number of community organizations to provide necessary and immediate relief and support to those affected by Houston’s flooding. Iwundu’s new NBA team, the Magic, have been active in lending support to those in need in Houston and Southeast Texas. Iwundu said he is in the planning stages of coming up with ways that he can help those in Houston with his time and money.
“Seeing how all of the professional teams, and even the people outside of Houston, are coming together to help out, that’s great to see,’’ Iwundu said. “Random people are helping people through the water. People are responding and helping how they can and that’s helping things go smoother than it could be.
“It’s actually pretty tough to get back into the city right now, but I’m coming up with a way to team up with the Orlando Magic organization to give something back to the people of Houston,’’ he added. “We just want to help out anyway that we can.’’
After starring in high school and AAU basketball (where he played for a Houston-based team with University of Kentucky standouts Aaron and Andrew Harrison), Iwundu played four seasons at Kansas State. He set the school record for starts in a college career (124) while also becoming the first Wildcat ever to compile 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals.
That stellar play got him drafted by the Magic, and Iwundu has spent much of his summer in Orlando preparing for his first season in the NBA. The Magic open training camp on Sept. 26 and play their first preseason game in Memphis on Oct. 2. Orlando hosts the rival Miami Heat at the Amway Center on Oct. 18.
Iwundu said he was able to stay in contact with parents Larry and Marilyn Williams and siblings Chris and Kim via cell phones, text messages and e-mail throughout much of the horrifying weekend as the hurricane throttled the region and sent waters rushing inland.
Because he was in Orlando, Iwundu’s primary source for information about Houston’s fate came from television reports. He looked on in horror as he saw news of levee systems failing and waters rising to high as 18 feet as the rain continued to pour.
“There’s just so much water and it did get into my extended family’s houses,’’ he said. “They said the wind did some damage, but it was mainly just all of the water that came into the house. It’s going to be a costly thing for the city to recover from.’’
Iwundu said that Houston will recover from the devastation of the past few days because of the spirit of the people in the area. Like with his family, he said he is proud of how the city of Houston is sticking together throughout this natural disaster.
“My whole family is there, probably about 30-to-40 people. It hit us pretty hard, but at least everybody is safe,’’ Iwundu said with a sigh. “I was really worried about them, but for the most part they are making it now. The really good thing is seeing how everybody in Houston is coming together as one to help out.’’
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