Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

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

A Tale of Redemption for Tony Mitchell

Tony Mitchell Courtesy NBASerbia.com

Tony Mitchell had a dream season in 2012-13 as a rookie, earning the D League Rookie of the Year Award and helping the Mad Ants reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Courtesy NBASerbia.com

By Alec Johnson

Mad Ants’ forward Tony Mitchell had a rookie season for the ages. He was named NBA D-League Rookie of the Year, won three D-League Player of the Week Awards, a D-League Player of the Month Award for March, and All D-League First Team Honors and All D-League Rookie First Team Honors. Plus, he helped the Mad Ants reach the postseason for the first time in franchise history with a 27-23 record. He also averaged 21.9 points/game during the season, and put up two 40+ point performances.  One of them sent a game against the Austin Toros into triple overtime. Mitchell also had a stretch of nine games in which he scored over 20 points from Feb. 22-Mar. 15.

Mitchell’s efforts earned him a spot on the Boston Celtics’ Orlando Summer League roster. He excelled, averaging 11.2 points per game and putting up 14, 15, and 16 point performances during his time there. He also spent time on the New York Knicks’ Las Vegas NBA Summer League roster, but he didn’t get as much playing time as he did in Orlando. Overall, having gotten the opportunity to compete in both Summer Leagues and having a shot at playing on an NBA team shows how far along he has come in his development.

However, life wasn’t always this good for Mitchell. In his days at the University of Alabama,  he was suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team” during his junior season, and he did not get to come back for his senior season. Instead, Mitchell tried to get into the NBA Draft, and failed. After going to play with the Sacramento Kings’ summer league team, Mitchell signed on as a free agent, but was cut a month later, and then found the Mad Ants through Keith Smart, the former Indiana University basketball player who coached the Kings at the time. Smart reached out to Coach Duane Ticknor, who ended up taking Mitchell in, according to an article from AL.com, the website of the Birmingham News in Birmingham, Alabama.

Assistant Coach Steve Gansey remembers the first time he saw Tony Mitchell when he came to the Mad Ants in November 2012, and saw that Mitchell had the body and athleticism to be an NBA player, but he wasn’t on an NBA roster, and that confused him.

“I figured he had all the intangibles, all the things that NBA teams look for,” Gansey said. “When he got into the player pool (for the D League), I knew exactly who he was and (I) liked him. I asked Rob Kurz, (a former Mad Ants player who played with Mitchell on the Kings Summer League team) a couple questions regarding him, and he said he’d a be great player in the D League, and he has the athleticism, everything that I saw, and I asked him ‘what his personality was like?’, ‘was he coachable?’, ‘was he a good teammate?’, and all those things, and he said, ‘Yes’.” It was kind of an easy decision on our part, with Jeff, Duane (Ticknor), and I, and we wanted to bring him in.”

It wasn’t easy between all of them at first, Gansey noted, when Mitchell first arrived in Fort Wayne.

“At first, it’s not that he struggled. He was just getting used to how he played and (he was) getting a feel for his teammates, coaches, everything like that, and for any player to jump onto a team who’s already been playing games and already had practices and all that…. It’s tough for anybody,” Gansey said.

“It took probably a month for him to gain everybody’s trust, players and coaches, and even Jeff Potter, front office. After that, he got in better shape and knew exactly what we wanted from him every day, every game and practice and all that, and played very well for us, and won us a lot of games,” he said.

Gansey said that he did know about Mitchell’s previous history at Alabama, and had made calls to people who knew Tony, and they told him that it wasn’t drastic or a huge problem.

“Guys deserve second chances, too. You can’t get along with everybody, and everything can’t be perfect in the world, so we wanted to give Tony an opportunity and a chance, and it ended up working in our favor,” Gansey said.

Mitchell ended up making a lot of progress from the time he first got to the Mad Ants to the end of the season, and Gansey attributed that to one word: confidence.

“Every week, he got more confidence in his play, in his jump shot. He got more confidence in his teammates, and in his coaches, also,” Gansey said.

It wasn’t easy, he said, as he, Tick, and Gansey got into it a few times, but Gansey says it was always positive.

“I took Tony out and just wanted to give him a breather, because we wanted him to finish the game for us, and he wanted to stay in. It was little arguments like that where, ‘Listen, I know you can play 48 minutes a game, but we want you to finish and give it your all towards the end of the game rather than right now,” Gansey said.

“It was tough for him to understand that throughout the year, but at the end of the year, he got us, we understood him.”

His conditioning also improved throughout the year, Gansey said as another reason for Mitchell’s success.

“He always stayed after and practiced. I took him a couple times, well, many times after practice, and worked with him and did some individual stuff, and did some specific things on the court where he gets the ball during games,” Gansey said. “We wanted to make those things more accurate.”

In terms of Summer League play, Gansey said that he saw an NBA-caliber player when he played in Boston, and in Las Vegas, he didn’t get as much playing time. He told Mitchell to make the most of the time he got to play, whether for the whole game or only two minutes.

The assistant coach also talked about the things he got to see at the Summer League.

“He has the body, he has the athleticism. He didn’t shoot the ball very well in Orlando, but he played with those NBA guys. That’s the reason why they have Summer League. There’s players that play with these teams that are with those NBA teams and you get to see certain matchups, you get to see rookies, you get to see their draft picks go against guys like Tony Mitchell, and guys like Ron Howard, and see how they match up,” Gansey said.

MItchell’s defense has been a concern for Gansey and the coaching staff, as he struggles with the concept of team defense, knowing his spot on the floor and having the trust in his teammates to fulfill their role. He does feel, however, that it has improved.

“He showed what he can do on the defensive end in Orlando and Vegas,” Gansey said. “It’s tough to get certain philosophies down when you’re in Vegas Summer League with defense because you have such a short little amount of time. I felt he did very well on the defensive end. He was engaged, he was in the defensive stance.”

“From what I watched, and because of his athleticism, it makes up more if he does get driven by or if he does gamble on a pass, his athleticism can make up for it. A lot of NBA players can’t say that for themselves. That definitely helps Tony in that regard.”

As for joining the Celtics, Gansey believes Tony has a shot with them because they are looking for younger guys to help rebuild their team. He also says that people know that he’s good from watching him in the D League, and they know he can get better.

“The Boston Celtics are looking to rebuild, and looking for younger guys who they can build up, and potentially have a future with, and I think Tony is one of those guys who can help an NBA basketball team,” Gansey said.

When November rolls around, we’ll know for sure whether Tony Mitchell is in the NBA, or still with the Mad Ants. Regardless of where he ends up, Mitchell has seemed to turn the corner, and his future looks to be a bright one.

Behind the Scenes: Jon Bishop, Mad Ants NBA Consultant

Jon Bishop is a Director of Team Marketing and Business Operations for the NBA. He works specifically with teams like the Mad Ants to give them advice about topics such as sponsorship, marketing, PR, and other areas.
Photo Credit: LinkedIn

When people think NBA, they think of the popular teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Mavs, Spurs, etc., and of players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Derek Rose, and others. They think of the slam dunks, the great moments, the buzzer beaters, and player antics and behavior. But what people don’t really think about is what makes the NBA run, specifically on the business side of things, and with the D-League.

That’s what Jon Bishop does for a living. He is currently the Director,Team Marketing and Business Operations for the NBA, and he consults for 5 D-League teams, including the Mad Ants. He started there in January 2012, and has been there now for over a year and a half. Bishop works with a team of 35 people in the NBA office in New York City. He is in a group called account managers, and he says that he is essentially a generalist. This means that he and others labeled generalists can go out and speak across the entire business of the three leagues of the NBA, WNBA, and D League. It can be anything such as tickets, marketing, PR, CR (community relations), and more. Other people in his group are specialists, who focus on a specific area of business operations, such as sponsorship, or season ticket retention. They are called in when there’s help needed in a specific operation of a team’s business.

Then there’s the admin team.

“They help put together workshops. Instead of going and doing team visits and doing one-on-ones, we’ll bring all the teams together for a workshop. In fact, last week (week of June 3), we had an NBA Development League Sales and Marketing meeting, and so we brought in all the D League teams to come in and see the latest and greatest that’s happening across our league, across other basketball leagues, across the industry as a whole,” Bishop said.

He also mentioned that they help with their travel, and act as a support system for the rest of the staff.

As for his relationship with the Mad Ants, Bishop says that it has been great, and that he has seen great leadership and a great staff there. It’s an ideal situation for having only started consulting with the team in November 2012.

“That’s kind of what you want if you’re in my role,” Bishop said. “You want a staff who is willing to listen. You want to have an influence, an impact. Whatever kind of work you want to do, you want to have an impact, so the staff here has always been very keen and understanding of like, ‘Hey, here comes some opportunities for us to get better’ and they listen. That always makes my job a little easier.”

Along with the Mad Ants, Bishop works with NBA teams, too. He says that the difference in working with both types of teams is the size of their staffs.  Bishop says he is able to develop more relationships with the D League teams, and has to be more tactical with the NBA teams since they have larger staffs.  He also feels that he has more influence when he is working with D-League teams, but feels that what he does with the NBA teams can also work with the D-League teams.

“I feel like what we do is scalable, sharing best practices, and being able to change the business,” he said.

So how did Mr. Bishop get to where he was today? He grew up in Texas, and his career path started when he attended college at Texas A&M from 1989 to 1993, where he studied journalism and interned at a local TV station called KBTX-TV in Bryan, Texas as a sports intern. Bishop also interned at the athletic department of his university working in marketing and promotions, according to an 2009 article from wralsportsfan.com. Bishop said he enjoyed both internships, but he felt that the TV side was too competitive and difficult to break into, so he thought the team side would be a better place for him to get his start.

“I felt like the team side was, not necessarily the easier path, but one that I could get my career started on,” Bishop said.

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The interesting aspect about the time that Bishop was applying for jobs was that it was in the mid-90’s, when there was no Monster.com or career websites that listed jobs online. Much of his job searching involved sending resumes to places that had an address, got a few “feelers”, and eventually found an internship with the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, in the fall of 1997. From there, he says, he worked his way up in the organization on the ticket side of the business, eventually becoming Assistant General Manager in October 2002. After two years there, he got a job in December 2004 as Director of Ticket Sales at Daytona International Speedway, where he worked until September 2005.  He then got an opportunity to return to the Bulls again as Assistant GM in September 2005, where he oversaw the revenue streams of the franchise. Bishop worked there for seven years until the NBA opportunity came about in January 2012.

He credits his time with the Bulls for helping him land his current position at the NBA.

“I really developed from somebody who had a ticket specialty into somebody who could really oversee a team and a team business, and so that made me marketable to the NBA because of that experience,” Bishop said.

With any job comes challenges and rewards, and Bishop is no stranger to either of those as an NBA director. For challenges, he said that as an NBA consultant, he works to influence decision-making but is not the one enacting change like he would do as Assistant GM of the Bulls.

“So when you’re running a team, if you decide you want to do something, you do it today. If you’re consulting with the team, you provide ‘here are the best practices’, but they don’t necessarily have to do it,” Bishop said, “so you don’t feel as influential as you want to be all the time. When your ideas do get accepted and put into motion, it’s fulfilling and rewarding, but it doesn’t happen every time.”

The constant travel would appear to be a challenge of the job as well.

“The travel is extreme. We’re on the road every week, so you adapt to that, though. I feel like I’ve adapted well.”

With challenges to a job come the benefits and rewards, and Bishop has experienced plenty of these, too. Overall, he insists, his job is an enjoyable one.

“It’s a great learning experience. I remember when I was hired, they said it was going to be like getting your Ph.D. in sports management,” Bishop said. “You get so much exposure across all three of our leagues, and see how every team does it differently.”

He also talked about the variety in his work that made it interesting.

“There’s variety in what you do, That keeps everything fresh, and so it’s kind of nice having variety in your work, and it’s fulfilling when you see the teams succeeding,” he said.

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In his spare time, Bishop likes to spend time with his wife of 16 years, Kelly, and their two kids, Camryn, 11, and Kyle, 7, and is a fan of his alma mater, Texas A&M, and its sports teams, especially football.

When asked about Johnny Football’s (Johnny Manziel) prospects down the road, he said that  what he did on the field was great, but doesn’t like all the attention Manziel was getting for his off the field antics. He did praise the work that he and head coach Kevin Sumlin have done for the program, especially after last season’s successes in the program’s first year in the SEC.

“I feel like they’ve helped us turn the corner into hopefully having a nice run,” Bishop said. “Recruiting and everything is going well. I’m just hopeful that his bringing extra exposure to A&M is really gonna help us be a little better there on the field.”

His favorite sports memory also has to do with football, and it was when he took his 7-year-old son, Kyle, to his first Aggie football game (his son is named after the Aggies stadium, Kyle Field). And it wasn’t just any game. It was the A&M upset of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium last season.

“That’s like #1. I went to games with my dad, and I’ve been going to games since I was five years old for thirty something years. It’s tough to beat that one when you go in there and its your first game with your kid, so I would say that’s an easy #1,” Bishop said.

Along with being a fan and attending games, he also attended a Texas A&M 12th Man Special Teams tryout. It was started by then Coach Jackie Sherrill in the 1980’s, he said. The team was composed of regular students and eventually, it was made into a tryout where one representative of the 12th Man (the Texas A&M student body) would get to play on the kickoff team.

Bishop talked about the experience of trying out for this special team, saying it was a dream of his to play for the Aggies. He went with a couple guys from his dorm and it was a two hour workout/experience. The special teams coach at the time, Sean Slocum (who’s now with the Green Bay Packers) started the experience out with a message for those trying out.

“Sean Slocum gets up and says, ‘Most of you guys need to realize that your football careers are long over. You probably don’t need to be out here, but we’re going to see if we can find some talent’,” Bishop said.

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Shuttle drills, 40-yard dashes, height and weight measurements were part of the routine, Bishop said. He remembers them not running any football-specific drills as they were looking for people that were quick and could get down the field. After the tryouts, the results were posted and he thought he saw his name on the board! However, it was for a different Bishop because there had been two of them that had tried out, and it was the other Bishop that had gotten the spot.

“It was a fun experience. Great memories,” he said.

Looking ahead to the future, Bishop hopes to run a team of his own one day, and feels that his job as an NBA consultant has helped put him in a position to do that.

“I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I really enjoy it,” Bishop said. “I don’t know if it’s something like looking for my next move right away, maybe its to grow in the league office at the NBA. A lot of people have taken that path, and its a great place to work, and I’ve really enjoyed it, and so, hopefully, they’ll want to keep me for a while.”