Patience pays off for Ants’ Hornbeak
Je’lon Hornbeak had to be patient, that’s for sure, since it took about 13 months for him to get his first start with the Mad Ants. It came Saturday in a 98-77 victory over the Windy City Bulls at Memorial Coliseum in which Fort Wayne’s defense was two points shy of equaling the franchise record for stinginess.
“It took what? Two years (for a start)?” Hornbeak said with a laugh. “Nah, it’s a blessing. I got the go-ahead (Friday) that I would be starting. I was just trying to get my mindset right because I wanted to win, No. 1, but I also wanted to play good. I wasn’t really nervous, but I was just really eager to get out there.”
Filling in for Tra-Deon Hollins (knee), Hornbeak, 24, played over 36 minutes and had six points, eight assists and one turnover, and his team was plus-25 with him on the court.
As the Mad Ants (5-4) have juggled the Indiana Pacers’ prospects this season : Edmond Sumner and Ike Anigbogu are in the NBA, Alize Johnson and Davon Reed are in the G League : Fort Wayne has used six different starting lineups. And that has meant Hornbeak, a second-year professional out of Monmouth, has had to be especially patient.
“That’s one of the reasons he’s on our team and in this league : he’s a professional : and he understands the business side of it,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “There’s politics in basketball and certain guys have got to play more than others. He understands it and keeps himself ready. When his name is called, like (Saturday), after not playing in the last game, all of a sudden he’s starting and playing 36 minutes, you’ve got to keep yourself ready to do whatever the team needs.”
Hornbeak, a 6-foot-3 guard, was 2 of 4 from 3-point range against the Bulls.
This season, he has played in only four games, averaging 5.3 points, 2.8 assists and 16.4 minutes, and he’s 7 of 10 from beyond the arc.
“He’s probably our best team defender now,” Gansey said. “He communicates really well on the floor and with the rest of his teammates.”
Last season, Hornbeak averaged 9.8 minutes in 32 games and scored 2.6 points per game. He was 20 of 64 from 3-point range.
“I was pretty much designated as a shooter last year, but I told Coach that I wanted to do more, I could do more, and they told me to work on it in the offseason,” Hornbeak said. “When I came back, they told me we’d give it a shot. So they stayed true to their word and I stayed true to mine and it’s just kept working. It’s been good so far.”
The Mad Ants (3-1 at home) play host to the Canton Charge (3-6, 2-4 on the road) at 7 p.m. today at the Coliseum. It’s unclear whether Hornbeak will see as much playing time, but if he does, look for him to take as much pride in his defense as his shooting.
“I like defense. I don’t like people scoring. I like to win and win big,” he said.