Mad Ants adjusting well on the fly
Halfway through their season, the Mad Ants are 14-11 and hold a one-game edge over the Windy City Bulls for the Central Division lead. There had been inconsistencies that kept the Mad Ants around the .500 mark for a long while, but two things have made this 25-game performance particularly noteworthy: the youthfulness of the roster; and an unprecedented amount of movement to and from the NBA.
“When we have guys who love to work, who come day in and day out and play hard and just are able to compete, that helps,” rookie Travin Thibodeaux said. “We get after each other, each and every day.”
Of Fort Wayne’s 13 players, 11 are in their first or second professional seasons : all but Stephan Hicks and Omari Johnson.
Thibodeaux had 11 points and 10 rebounds in a career-high 32 minutes during Monday’s 105-109 win over the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario at Memorial Coliseum. He had been the least-used player on the Mad Ants but showed that what he’d been working on : particularly shooting from the perimeter : hadn’t been for naught as Fort Wayne won for the fifth time in six games.
The Mad Ants got 29 points from Edmond Sumner, too, as he upped his team-leading scoring average to 22.3 points over 14 games heading into today’s 7 p.m. contest against the Grand Rapids Drive (11-14) in Michigan. The Mad Ants, who also have rookies Rob Gray, Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Jared Sam and Elijah Stewart, play host to the Lakeland Magic (14-10) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Coliseum.
Sumner, rookie Alize Johnson, Davon Reed and Ike Anigbogu have had multiple stints this season with the Pacers, who also had Ben Moore before he was signed away from the Mad Ants by the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
With Fort Wayne, Alize Johnson has averaged 19.3 points, 13.9 rebounds (third in the G League) and 3.3 assists over 18 games; Reed 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 21 games; and Anigbogu 11.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2 shot blocks in 16 games.
“Every year, there are a lot of different situations and a lot of different adjustments that I have to make and players have to make,” Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said. “There’s a lot of back-and-forth (movement), but there’s constant communication with the Pacers and the front office and their coaches.
“There’s understanding when (Pacers coach Nate McMillan) needs somebody or when we need somebody. That’s why we still have that goal of getting 1 percent better every day and some of these guys are really showing it.”
While personnel changes led to a lack of cohesiveness at times, Gansey believes things have solidified some lately. Tra-Deon Hollins ranks third in the G League with 8.2 assists and second with 2.43 steals. Hicks and Omari Johnson have also picked the scoring slack, bringing their averages to 16.2 and 12.7 points, respectively.
“This is where you want to be pushing and in your stride and start separating yourselves from teams in our division and teams in the (Eastern Conference). We’re playing pretty well,” Gansey said.