Mo Bamba eager for redefinition with new Magic coach, season

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After three seasons disrupted by injuries and the pandemic, Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba is ready to redefine himself on the court.

When Jamahl Mosley took over as coach in the offseason, Bamba saw the opportunity to start fresh with a new system and expectations.

“I’ve taken my punches, I’ve taken my licks,” Bamba said. “It was all just a matter of being part of it and shouldering it.”

The center trained with the team’s young core at summer league in Las Vegas. When he returned to Orlando, Bamba routinely studied film with assistant coach Nate Tibbetts and spent time in the gym with Mosley.

Both coaches drew up plays and drills to help Bamba learn to make better reads and improve his shooting around the rim.

“It’s hard to emulate what really goes on out there five-on-five,” Bamba said. “But just having our coaches come in and mock it up, picking apart defenses, looking at a secondary option, a third option — I think it really helped build my IQ.”

Building confidence is a key for Bamba, who never truly hit his rhythm in the first three seasons of his career. Averages of 6.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 47.1% shooting aren’t good enough for a No. 6 pick.

The center has never been available for a full season, struggling to earn minutes and fighting through several injuries. He appeared in 46 of 72 games, only five starts, for a 21-win team. A stretch at the end of last season helped Bamba find a rhythm he hopes to carry through this year.

Bamba’s career-high game against the Pistons last May — when he notched with 22 points and 15 rebounds off the bench — reflects the version of himself he hopes to consistently provide this season.

“Mo got to grow into himself a lot more,” guard Terrence Ross said. “Those last 15 to 20 games he played really well, he showed glimpses of what he can do and that gave him confidence. ... You can just see it. Now he doesn’t feel like everything’s new, so he has a lot more than comfortability with his surroundings.”

In his fourth season where he’ll earn $7.6 million, a contract year, Bamba also is pushing himself to step up as a leader on the young Orlando roster. If he doesn’t get an extension with the Magic before the 2021-22 season tips, he could become an unrestricted free agent.

Although he’s only 23, Bamba said many of his young teammates feel older after playing over half their careers in the pandemic. After 2019-20 season went on hiatus for almost five months, it was completed inside a “bubble” at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.

“It’s weird because a lot of us are going into our third or fourth year but it feels like we’re going into our fifth,” Bamba said. “The bubble felt like a whole other season.”

The condensed seasons of the pandemic were challenging, but this summer’s return to a more normal offseason gave Bamba more time to learn the expectations of his new coach.

Mosley said he plans to emphasize the center as a defensive threat by utilizing his size — 7 feet tall with a 7-foot-10 wingspan — to disrupt opposing offense.

This role will revolve around Bamba’s improved ability to read the game and vocalize strategy to his teammates.

“I want him to be the loudest guy in the gym when it comes to coverages,” Mosley said. “[He’s] anchoring the defense in a lot of ways, so his ability to have a high basketball IQ and see what’s coming before it happens with a lot of different offenses, that’s going to be great for him.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.

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