By Randy Renner
This time of year most Thunder players have finished up their summer vacations and have either returned to Oklahoma City or soon will. This is also the time of year when more and more of them get out into the community and help out with various youth programs.
We usually see them handing out reading material from the Thunder Book Bus, or teaching some moves at a Thunder Youth Basketball Camp.
Wednesday was different and special.
Thunder forwards Kyle Singler and Josh Huestis visited the El Sistema Oklahoma, an after-school program that helps transform the lives of children growing up in poverty through music.
Cathy and Phil Busey founded the program through a partnership with St. Luke's United Methodist Church and the Wanda Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University. You can find out more about the program at www.elsistemaok.org
Josh and Kyle listened to the more than 220 children in 3rd through 8th grades at eight Oklahoma City schools, sing songs and perform classical music selections. Huestis was given an opportunity to conduct the children's orchestra and Singler helped keep the beat on a set of drums.
"I actually took a class at Duke that was very similar," Singler said. "So I have a little bit of a background on the drums, but I got a "B" in the class."
He got an "A" for his performance with the orchestra and impressed his "conductor" teammate.
"I'd give him a 10 out of 10 and he even went off on a little solo there at the end, so he was great."
Huestis played in his high school band so he has a little bit of a musical background too. He knows how hard it can be, especially for young people who until coming to El Sistema had never played and in many cases had never even held a musical instrument.
"It's incredible that they have the discipline and the patience to work at the instrument and to come here after spending all day in school. It's really impressive, I think they're gonna do great things."
Huestis and Singler took time to answer a variety of questions from the kids like, 'How tall are you?' and 'How long do you have to practice?' and "What's it like to play in the NBA?'.
They also took the time to answer a few questions from a small group of reporters. Huestis says he's completely healed up from a torn pectoral muscle and will be full strength when training camp begins at the end of the month.
His summer began with news the Thunder were signing him to a fully guaranteed NBA deal rather than another D-League contract.
"Obviously it's really comforting but that's just the beginning of the work that I need to do to get better. I'm just excited to be a part of the team and to be able to contribute."
There'd been some speculation that Huestis might have to wait another year before getting his big bump in salary. He still expects to play plenty of games for the OKC Blue but by being on the Thunder's official NBA roster he'll get some playing time at the highest level too.
Singler also got good news to begin his summer when the Thunder signed him to a five year, $25 million contract.
"Yeah, my summer's been great but I'm very excited to get the season started."
Singler has had several meetings with Thunder coach Billy Donovan and his staff and thinks the change will be good for the organization.
"The meetings with Billy have been great, I have nothing but good things to say about him. He's a young coach and I think he'll bring a lot of energy to our team. It's a great time to be on the Thunder."
Singler, who came over at trade deadline last season from the Detroit Pistons, has been impressed with the Thunder's family atmosphere and the camaraderie between players. He participated with most of his teammates in the summer workouts in Los Angeles organized by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
"I got some really good work in there, Kevin was a part of it, Russell, Serge, so we had guys who are the leaders of our team showing up and taking charge and taking ownership of it so it's awesome that we have those guys on our team."
As ready as Singler is to get things started, Huestis may be even more excited since he's had to miss potential workout time because of his previous injury.
"I am so excited, as you know I've been waiting for this for a while now and so I'm really excited and ready to go."
After a long spring and summer without basketball Thunder fans fell pretty much the same way.