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Atkins giving his old school a lift

Former Magic PG is rookie coach at Evans High

Brian Schmitz

Magic Insider

8:59 PM PST, January 11, 2013

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You could hear the coach's booming voice outside the dressing room, challenging his players behind locked doors.

"Is coach still in there?" a student who works with the Evans High School team asks.

Chucky Atkins was still in there, long after a loss to Wekiva High on Tuesday night.

Atkins then emerges and when a player walks by, he says, kindly and calmly, "Tomorrow night, 10 rebounds, right? You can do it."

Atkins has the scorebook in his hand, going over the stats, trying to figure out how he can help his inexperienced Trojans win.

Atkins, a former Magic point guard, is in his first season as a coach on any level.

He'd have his heart and soul into any job, but this is different. He starred at Evans more than 20 years ago. Once a Trojan, always a Trojan. You can hear the passion in his voice.

"I grew up not far from here," Chucky said.

He played at the Pine Hills Boys Club and dodged the dangers in the neighborhood. He knows what the team means to the area.

He admits he was "a little nervous" coaching his first game. "I mean, I don't really get nervous because I'm not the one playing, but, yeah," he said.

It's certainly not in his fearless nature. Atkins overcame his size (5-feet-11) to make a name for himself at South Florida. Undrafted, he played in the NBA for 11 seasons, scoring 6,863 points. He did it with work and guile and a cocksure but charming personality.

The Trojans were 9-4 heading into Friday night's game against Oviedo. Atkins is learning what most first-time coaches who played at higher levels learn: Patience, patience, patience.

"It's a lot different. Normally, when you're the guy on the court, with the ball, you're in control of things," he said. "As much as I teach them, having them run through a play, ultimately, I'm not in control. That's what I'm learning.

"I have to be real patient with these guys. I have to strip them down and build basketball players and young men."

Players don't escape tough love from Atkins, 38. Even if they are related to him.

P.J. Atkins, Chucky's 17-year-old brother, was reminded of that after Chucky took him out of the Wekiva game. P.J. said something as he headed to the bench — and big brother let him have it, loudly.

"Everybody is the same to me," Chucky said. "If you're not doing your responsibility, I'm gonna get on you. I don't care if you are related to me. If Gregg Popovich can get on Tim Duncan, then I can get on him."

Atkins, who retired as a player after the 2009-10 season, says he follows the Magic and the NBA. He kick-started his career with Orlando's Heart & Hustle team in the 1999-2000 season. Asked if the rebuilding Magic remind him of that club, he says, "We were tougher. We had guys fighting to stay in the NBA, on the last year of their contracts."

Atkins wants to one day coach in college or in the NBA, but for now, he's trying to help his old school win.

"It's something I'm glad I did," he said. "If you can coach at this level and get these kids to perform and realize it's a team concept, you can coach on any level."

Streak dooms hope

Well, it was fun while it lasted, which seemed like about five minutes.

The Magic were 12-13, looking to make an inspiring run at the playoffs and thumb their noses at doomsday critics.

Then came the injuries to Glen "Big Baby" Davis and E'Twaun Moore, and a crushing 10-game losing streak.

To reach the playoffs now, the Magic – likely without Davis for at least another week -- must resemble a different team.

Let's say you need 40 wins to make the playoffs as a No. 8 seed. As of Friday, the Celtics held the No. 8 and final postseason spot at 18-17--- six games ahead of Orlando.

The 12-23 Magic must go 28-19 the rest of the season to finish 40-42 and have a shot.

Not gonna happen.

Right on Dwight?

Lakers executive VP Jim Buss says there's a "95 percent" chance that the club will be able to re-sign Dwight Howard.

Done deal – right?

Not with Dwight. Even Buss sounds as if he's already practicing to make his case to Howard as the Lakers struggle beyond comprehension.

"If we make the playoffs, that means we're playing well and I think we'll go deep in the playoffs and it's a no-brainer that he stays," Buss told ESPNLA radio.

"I think if it continues to fall apart because of injuries, I'm hoping we can convince him, 'Look, everybody was injured, you weren't 100 percent for the whole year, let's give it another shot next year.' It points to 95 percent that we'll be able to keep him. I can't control what he does, but I can sure make a great argument."

Again, if I'm Buss, I'd demand a commitment from Dwight well before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

This 'n' That

I normally don't encourage such behavior, but good for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony was standing up for fellow players who are tired of Kevin Garnett's antics. KG was backpedaling like the fake tough guy he is as 'Melo got in his face… A 3-way big-man trade involving The Undecided, The Uncoachable and The Unloved that maybe makes sense only to me: L.A.'s Dwight Howard to Brooklyn; Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins (with John Salmons and Chuck Hayes) to the Lakers; and the Nets' Brook Lopez (with Mirza Teletovic and MarShon Brooks) to the Kings.

bschmitz@tribune.com.