BY JOSH COHEN, OrlandoMagic.com
ORLANDO – In three games at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas last month, Orlando Magic rookie forward Jett Howard totaled 40 points and 10 assists. Normally, the numbers would strictly be material for box scores and stat pages. But in this case, they had far greater meaning and significance.
Before arriving in Vegas in early July, Howard was one of three 2023 NBA draftees to partner with Wilson Sporting Goods Co. to raise money for YMCAs in their respective team markets. Cam Whitmore of the Houston Rockets and Jalen Wilson of the Brooklyn Nets were the other two.
Wilson Sporting Goods started the donation with $5,000 for each market; then each of the players, through their own on-court performances, added to each money pot. Howard, with those 40 points and 10 dimes, raised the Orlando amount to $10,000.
On Saturday, Aug. 12, exactly a month from the last of his three games in Vegas, the 6-foot-8, 215-pounder out of the University of Michigan joined representatives from Wilson at the South Orlando YMCA to present the check and help run a youth basketball clinic.
“Wilson and I just figured out something – they came to me and were like, ‘if you score a certain amount of points and assists in summer league then we can add to that (donation)’,” he said. “When I saw that, my eyes just kind of lit up and it motivated me. The kids motivated me, the YMCA motivated me to get to this point, and it’s been amazing.”
Howard, the 11th overall pick in the 2023 draft, spent a lot of time going to the YMCA as a kid. Also during his childhood, he would see his dad, former NBA player and current Michigan head coach Juwan Howard, give back to the community.
That’s now what he plans to do in Central Florida. One of his many goals is to be a positive role model for children and lift their spirits. He remembers how important it was for his growth and development getting advice and encouragement from those he looked up to.
“I remember being in their position not too long ago,” he said. “Going to the YMCA and having people talk to me and lecture me at that moment. (One of my favorite things) is just hanging around the kids and getting to know them, honestly.”
That’s the outlook Wilson as a brand has as well. They know how much of an impact NBA players and professional athletes in general can make on children, which is why they wanted to team up with a few of the league’s youngsters for this initiative.
“I grew up as an athlete and I think you are looking for role models who you want to emulate – whether that’s through their play or really just how they live their life,” Wilson Director of Communications Sarah Houseknecht said. “Whether athletes realize it or not, they have that impact and so it’s really amazing when those guys do realize they have that impact and make the most of it.”
Wilson’s Summer League-adjacent program is part of a multi-year national partnership with YMCA of the USA, now in its third year. The agreement has provided $1.5 million in funding over three years to enable equity and access to sports for underserved youth at YMCA locations across the country. Wilson’s programming aims to motivate youth to actively participate, through exposure to real-life experiences such as career fairs and mentorship, as well as access to courts, fields, events and industry-leading sporting goods.
In addition to helping a great cause, Howard’s on-court production at summer league implied that his shooting and playmaking were on point, which is an encouraging sign as he gets ready to start his first NBA season. He’ll be one of two Magic rookies this season. The other is Anthony Black, the sixth overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft who also appeared in three summer league games.