Amaechi in his magic act

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The Independent Online

The Orlando Magic have given England star John Amaechi a thumbs-up just four games into his return season in the National Basketball Association.

The Orlando Magic have given England star John Amaechi a thumbs-up just four games into his return season in the National Basketball Association.

The 6ft 10in and 19st player, a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995-96 who spent the next three years in Europe - including a stint with the Sheffield Sharks - had a match-winning performance over the weekend in a 107-104 triumph over the Washington Wizards, pouring in 12 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

Washington led 76-74, but Amaechi sparked an 11-4 run, hitting a couple of long jump shots and making several free throws before finishing with 14 points - his best performance as a NBA player.

In one stretch, the Magic went to him on six consecutive possessions, looking for him to score.

"We rode him like a horse, until he had nothing left," said Magic point guard Darrell Armstrong.

"We milked him like a cow. He may not have any milk tomorrow, but that's okay - we don't have another game until Monday."

Amaechi is averaging 15 minutes a game, shooting 52% and scoring almost 10 points while grabbing 2.3 rebounds.

It has been the sweetest of starts for a player whose chances of returning to the world's elite league were dismissed by many in the British basketball hierarchy.

Orlando's rookie head coach, Doc Rivers, told said: "First of all he's (almost) seven feet tall and that's a big quality - he's a guy that knows how to play, he's a smart basketball player.

"He can give us some scoring down on the post (under the basket) which should help us also.

"He'll be a better player in a month than he was last month - that's the other reason we kept him, we look at his potential for improvement. At that size we think it's important.

"He's not your typical European player. He's a physical, tough guy and that's not your general European basketball player."

The solid start has all but ruled out Amaechi for England in forthcoming European Championship semi-final matches this month.

"Of course it is a big loss for us, but it is great for English basketball that a man with not much natural talent has reached the NBA by sheer determination," said England coach Laszlo Nemeth.

"He is a great example. Hopefully, my players will draw inspiration from him."

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