Nearly 33, veteran Ham mentors Magic's summer-league rookies

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At 6 feet 7 and 240 pounds, Darvin Ham is not small. Ham, a former member of the Detroit Pistons who played last week for the Orlando Magic in the Pro Summer League, has powerful arms attached to a thickly muscled body.

That physique helped Ham earn the nickname "Dunkin Darvin" when he starred at Texas Tech more than a decade ago.

And though he will be 33 years this month, he's still remembered for his backboard-smashing dunk in the NCAA's Sweet 16 in 1996. Those college exploits helped him to attend the NBA's Slam-Dunk Contest later that same year and would also get him attention from the Denver Nuggets.

"Behind winning the championship title in 2004 [with the Pistons], breaking the backboard is most definitely my second biggest moment in my career, and not many athletes get that kind of exposure," Ham said of the dunk that landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Ham was easily the oldest player on the floor last week. But his eight years in the NBA -- he spent last season in the Phillipines -- also earned a lot of respect from the rookies just starting their careers.

"It's nice to have someone help us out with that kind of experience," said former University of Florida standout Matt Walsh, Ham's Magic summer league teammate.

With a championship ring already in his possession, Ham wasn't like most of the players playing at RDV Sportsplex. A championship ring, after all, is what all professional players seek but few attain.

But as sure as Darvin might be on a basketball court, his mother, Wilmer Jones-Ham, recalled one time when he was not so graceful.

"I remember he was playing drums one Sunday, in church, and one of the drumsticks flew up in the air. He was so embarrassed," she said.

Just as his mother is a leader in her town of Saginaw, Mich. -- she is the mayor pro-tem -- Ham said he definitely still feels like he can be a leader on an NBA team. He hopes to add to the 417 games he's played in during his eight years in the league. He hopes a team -- if not the Magic, then someone else -- will pick him up for training camp.

"My championship experience gives me a type of leadership in the team," Ham said, "and my humbleness from my route [in this career] allows me to play and present myself at a higher level."

Ham does not seem like he'll quit anytime soon, either. There are rumors of him wanting to become an assistant coach. And why not? Ham knows what it takes to win and he knows he's got to prove it too.

"They [the rookies] are like family to me," he said. "But being away I got to show [Manila] what I was capable of and it built on my credible experience. I'm just trying to show that I know what it takes to win -- the team has got to want it, the coaches, the trainers, everyone's got to be connected.

"It's a heck of a ride."

One he doesn't want to end just yet, meaning he'll take his shots anywhere he can get them.

Olivia Gonzalez is a junior at Colonial High School. Her Institute mentor is reporter Kyle Hightower.

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