Former Mad Ant Rod Wilmont and friend Chase Sanders start new summer league in Fort Wayne

Rod Wilmont when he was with the Mad Ants.  Photo Courtesy: NBA.com

Rod Wilmont when he was with the Mad Ants.
Photo Courtesy: NBA.com

By Alec Johnson

“If I was still a Hoosier, I’d still be getting all the calls!”

There was some laughter among the players on the court, and then the game resumed.

These were the words of former Mad Ants player and IU star Rod Wilmont on June 17 during a pickup basketball game at Canterbury High School. The game itself was just for fun, with high scoring, as it went into the 130’s. That was just a pickup game.

Wednesdays and Sundays, however, are a bit more serious, as those are the days that the Canterbury League is played on. The league recently had its title game for the first summer session back in July. A team named Glen Park winning it with an 11-1 record. 14 teams played in the first league, including a team of Mad Ants players: Tommy Smith, Anthony Harris, and Bryant Austin. However, the team stopped playing due to players going and playing with other teams for the summer. Ron Howard and Sadiel Rojas also played in the league, but with different teams. Currently, a new session is going on now that started on July 31, this one at SportOne Fieldhouse.

As for the rules of the league, they play two 20-minute halves with a running clock, and they play by mostly high school rules. Teams get into a bonus for free throws at 7 fouls and double bonus at 10 fouls, and each player gets 6 fouls like the NBA. At the end of the season, there are playoffs, and every team gets to play, and they are seeded based on their record.

So why was the league started? According to Wilmont, he wanted something that was more than just a recreational basketball league.

“Basically it’s to try and get the best run in Fort Wayne, the best talent,” Wilmont said.            “(There’s) a lot of talent that’s around here, especially when a lot of guys come back that’s from here, like myself, Ron (Howard), those guys that play in Europe and the D League, we have some runs because it’s hard to play at the Y (YMCA) because there’s not very much talent, you don’t want to get hurt, and there are people that don’t know how to play at the top level.”

Looking for a solution, Wilmont turned to Canterbury High School Head Coach Scott Krieger to talk about the possibility of starting a summer league that would have games played in the gym.

“He loved the idea, especially to have this type of run going on here at Canterbury, and a lot of basketball and talent that’s walking out of this gym,” Wilmont said. “Especially with late night basketball games at the gym in the summertime, it can’t get any better than this.”

It wasn’t just Wilmont’s idea, though. One of his friends and former basketball player at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, and founder of Total Package Elite (a basketball player development company) Chase Sanders, helped Wilmont in organizing the league.

“We both sat down and brainstormed and (said), ‘We should start a league in Fort Wayne’, and try (and get) it going so we can get some of the best guys in here in Fort Wayne that can play into the league and get it going,” Wilmont said. “There’s a lot of talent here.”

Sanders talked about wanting to play on a high school court because the Y, in his mind, it got too small with 6’5, 6’6 guys playing, as he put it. They wanted to at least start there.

“We only started off with seven teams, and then people started hearing about it, and we ended up getting about fourteen teams. I know from my playing small college ball, there’s a lot of people that still didn’t know about it,” Sanders said in a phone interview. (He added that he hoped this story could get more attention out about it).

One person who does know about it is Mad Ants President Jeff Potter, who also plays in the league. He says he likes to support his players, former and current, as much as possible. Plus there’s his own personal desire to play and stay in shape. Potter still shows flashes of brilliance, even hitting a game-winning jumper in one of the games, and said his turn-around jumper is his favorite move on the court.

“Why do I play? Because I want to,” Potter said. “It’s a good way to keep in shape, and stumble around out there as best I can.”

He also reminisced on his playing days, and says that he can’t quite get the itch of playing basketball to go away, and still enjoys being out there.

“It’s the best exercise I think I can do, which is really what I’m after here, a good workout,” Potter said.

Wilmont, as many Indiana University fans remember, was a reserve player for the Hoosiers, posting 10 double digit games, and led the bench in scoring on 18 occasions, according to his profile on the D League website. He was at IU from 2003-07, and after his college career, he played with the Mad Ants from 2007-11, and then had stints in Europe, including places such as Italy, Turkey, and Sweden to name a few. Most recently, Wilmont was hired on last November as the assistant coach of Canterbury High School’s boys basketball team to help alongside head coach Scott Krieger.

Now, he hopes that his and Sanders’ newest venture will be something special, too, especially next year, when asked if he was hoping for the league to get media attention and more public recognition.

“That’s my plan next year, to get a lot of sponsors, every team will have their own jerseys, and stuff like that. It kind of got put together all at once, but for next year, we have a foundation for where we want to be next year, so we’ll see how it goes from there,” Wilmont said.

Sanders agrees, and hopes to have it be a summer league that fans will look forward to every year. He wants to model it off a popular summer league in California called the Drew League.

“All types of top NBA players play in it, and top college guys and stuff like that,” Sanders said. “It’s been around for 40 years, so they got a little bit of years on us. But that’s kind of the model that I’m going for. In the Drew League, they have Nike sponsor jerseys for every team. It’s done really, really really well. They keep track of stats, they have all the social media, like Instagram. They post picture of a player of the week, highlights, stuff like that.”

In terms of the types of players that can play in the league, it’s open to anybody 18 and up as long as they come to play, as it’s a competitive league. You don’t have to be playing overseas, Sanders said, and added that even high school players have played in the league. Eventually, Sanders hopes for the league to be more exclusive if it grows large enough. He even thinks that there could be two leagues drawn up, too, with one competitive league of elite players and one that’s competitive with less athletic players.

Potter hopes, too, that Wilmont and Sanders can turn the league into a successful business , and has seen signs of it starting to grow in popularity.  This is especially so with seeing some Mad Ants fans going to cheer on the players that are participating in the league, Potter said.

“There’s people showing up. It happens by word of mouth. We’ve had a few Mad Ants fans want to come see what’s going on. It takes time to build anything, but if it continues, I could see there definitely start to be bigger crowds,” Potter said.

Sanders hopes to start something special, something he thinks Fort Wayne never really had.

“I really think that this can be something really good because there really hasn’t been something like this in Fort Wayne. The goal is just to make it one of the top leagues to play in and be something that people will look forward to in the summertime and people can come out and watch some summer ball,” Sanders said.

For more info on the league, you can check out their website, canterburyleague.weebly.com, or by contacting Chase Sanders or Rod Wilmont. Their contact information is listed below.

Chase Sanders: Email- sanderschase08@yahoo.com / Cell: (260)-348-7265

Rod Wilmont: Email- wilmont1010@gmail.com / Cell: (317) 965-0033

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