Category Archives: Feature

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.

More D League coaches advancing to NBA: How they’re getting there

Former Mad Ants head coach Duane Ticknor was recently hired to be the Memphis Grizzlies' assistant coach. He is one of several D League coaches to make the jump to the NBA. Photo courtesy WANE TV

Former Mad Ants head coach Duane Ticknor was recently hired to be the Memphis Grizzlies’ assistant coach. He is one of several D League coaches to make the jump to the NBA this off-season.
Photo courtesy WANE TV

By Alec Johnson

The recent hiring the Memphis Grizzlies made of former Mad Ants head coach Duane Ticknor is one of several moves this off-season of D League coaches and personnel getting a shot at the dream job of the NBA. It’s the dream of many people who work in sports, to get a chance to work at the professional level with the best of the best. Ticknor has that opportunity now to work in the NBA alongside David Joerger and the Grizzlies.

Mad Ants President Jeff Potter discussed his feelings on Ticknor’s departure.

“My thoughts are I’m happy for him and his family. He’s done all he can do on our level, and I think not only join the NBA, but work with somebody he has a close relationship a in Dave Joerger. It’s a wonderful thing,” Potter said, “but it’s tough for us. We’re losing a fantastic coach, and we gotta try to replace him. It’s not going to be easy.”

Ticknor brought a lot of great qualities to the coaching role of the Mad Ants, which helped them achieve their first winning season and playoff appearance in franchise history.

“He was a great leader, a great communicator to the players,” Potter said. “Players liked playing for him. From my standpoint, I felt (that) we saw the game the same way, which I felt was very great, made me easy to work with.”

Assistant Coach Steve Gansey also appreciated what Coach Ticknor meant to him, and was elated for him to get the opportunity, but also sad that he wouldn’t be able to work with him anymore.

“He gave me a lot of responsibility this past year in terms of our team, and I love that aspect of it,” Gansey said in an earlier interview. “I’m sad to see him go, but I’m also super excited for his opportunity to coach.

Gansey also thinks he’ll do a great job in the NBA with the Grizzlies, especially with his coaching experience of coaching over 900 professional basketball games.

“He’s well prepared, he’s very knowledgeable (about) the game. His biggest and his best quality is the way he talks to the players, and the reaction that the players get from him is remarkable,” Gansey said. “That’s one of his biggest strengths, and he’ll continue to do that in Memphis with those guys.”

The decision to take an opportunity in the NBA is certainly a tough decision for coaches in the D League like Ticknor, who develop a sense of loyalty and respect with their players, and even the community, and don’t want to leave them. At the same time, it’s an opportunity most coaches aspire to, and one that is difficult to turn down.

Gansey talked about the difficulty he would face as a coach in that position.

“For instance, I’m obviously employed by the Mad Ants, and I want to see them do well, but if an opportunity arises where, not only for myself, but any coach, the opportunity to go to the NBA is a privilege for players and coaches, and sometimes, that opportunity will not be there for very long.” Gansey said. “So it’s hard because you have a commitment to one team, then all of a sudden, one NBA team calls, and you want to go to that team, but that’s the reason why they have call-ups for players and coaches. Tough question.”

Going to the NBA for their next career move has been quite common this off-season for some D League coaches, including Nick Norse, who was recently hired as the new assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors, Jay Larranaga became an assistant for the Celtics, joining new head coach Brad Stevens; Nate Tibbets joined the Cavs, and Dave Joerger got hired as the new head coach of the Grizzlies, where Ticknor is now. Also, former Idaho Stampede assistant Scott Williams joined the Milwaukee Bucks new head coach Larry Drew, and former Austin Toros’ head coach Taylor Jenkins got hired as an assistant by the Atlanta Hawks.

“It’s proving to be a great training ground for these guys,” Potter said in referring to the D League helping prepare coaches for working in the NBA.

Gansey also agreed, saying the D League has become more popular every year, and more NBA teams are buying into it, and they’re getting better players.

“I think NBA teams will continue to look at D League coaches as potential employers (employees), and I hope it continues to do that, because that’s where I want to be one day,” Gansey said.

When the D League started back in 2001, there were only 2 coaches called up after the 2001-02 season, Bob Thornton, who became an assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls, and Alex English, who became an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks. Since then, 27+ coaches from the D League have gone on to become involved in the NBA as an assistant coach, video coordinator, scout, director of player personnel, director of basketball, and even general manager, in the case of Dell Demps, who was the GM of the Austin Toros, and is currently the GM of the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly the Hornets).

So what kind of qualities does a D League coach need to get to the next level? Potter discussed his criteria for getting there, among them intelligence, preparation, and great communication skills. Along with that, he mentioned having a knowledge of the game, and especially work ethic.

“You gotta work hard. You got long hours, you got (to have) dedication. It takes a long time to be prepared to beat those other teams, so those are the aspects I think would help,” he said.

Gansey emphasized the ability to make quick adjustments, as a key quality for a D League coach to be successful and have a shot at the NBA.

“I think one of the biggest things in the D League and with D League coaches strive on is, you’ll get new players every week. You gotta be able to think on the fly. Sometimes there’s players that come in two hours before the game time, and you gotta try to tell them in a small amount of time, your philosophies on offense and defense, and you gotta think on the run. I think that’s the biggest strength for D League coaches is that you have to make adjustments on the fly and you have to think quick with them,” Gansey said.

Making it to the NBA is no easy task for D League coaches, and it took a long time for most of the new hires to finally make it there. The 2013-14 season will give them the chance to show fans, the media, and anyone who loves the NBA what they can do.