Tag Archives: Mad Ants

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.

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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.

Recap of weekend NBA Summer League action

By Alec Johnson

The first weekend of the Las Vegas Summer League Games is done, and so far, the teams with the best records are the Chicago Bulls, Mad Ant affiliate Milwaukee Bucks, and the D-League Select Team featuring one of our own, “Mr. Mad Ant” Ron Howard. All three of these teams stand at 2-0. Here’s a recap of what happened with all the current and former Mad Ants and their teams:

Courtesy NBA.com

Ron Howard  (Courtesy NBA.com)

Ron Howard and the NBA D-League Select Team:

“Mr. Mad Ant” and his crew of D-League All-Stars have surprised everyone by starting out
2-0 in the campaign, putting them in prime position for a first round bye in the league tournament. Their first game was against the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday, featuring new draft picks Shabazz Muhammad and Chris Johnson, and former Purdue star Robbie Hummel. The D-League won a close game 83-81. Starring in this game  for them was Stefhon Hannah, who led the D-League Select Team with 23 points, according to NBA.com. The D-League Defensive Player of the Year scored eight of those points in the final two minutes and drew a key charge late to preserve a two-possession advantage. Howard only played 12:15 of the game, scoring 2 points.

In the D-League’s second game on Sunday, they took on the Los Angeles Clippers, and won again, defeating them 83-77. Elijah Millsap led the team in scoring this time with 21 points and ended up making the free throw line his home. He shot 20 free throws, making 15 of them. His attempted free throws were more than the Clippers took as an entire team, according to the NBA.com recap. Howard played 12:31 of the game, and again registered 2 points.

The final game of the preliminary round for the D-League Select Team will be against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, with tipoff scheduled for 10:30 PM ET, broadcasted live on NBA TV and online at NBA.com/summerleague.

Luke Harangody (Courtesy thesportsfanjournal.com)

Luke Harangody (Courtesy thesportsfanjournal.com)

Luke Harangody and the Denver Nuggets

In the first game of NBA Summer League action for the Nuggets and Harangody, the team struggled and shot poorly, losing 88-74 to Mad Ant affiliate Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. The Nuggets were led in scoring by Harangody and Ben Uzoh who both came off of the bench and finished with 11 points apiece.  Part of the reason for the loss was Denver’s inability to score in the paint, as the Bucks outscored the Nuggets 44-26, according to the NBA.com recap.

The Nuggets’ next preliminary round game will be tonight versus the Chicago Bulls at 10:30 PM ET on NBA TV and online at NBA.com/summerleague.

JaJuan Johnson (Courtesy Bleacher Report.com)

JaJuan Johnson (Courtesy Bleacher Report.com)

JaJuan Johnson, Vernon Macklin and the Los Angeles Clippers

Vernon Macklin (Courtesy NBA.com)

Vernon Macklin (Courtesy NBA.com)

The former Mad Ants’ players and the LA Clippers have had mixed results so far in the league. In their first game Friday, the Clippers were led by Reggie Bullock’s 18-pt effort and defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 90-83, according to the NBA.com recap. JaJuan Johnson only played 2:49 and scored 4 points and added a steal to his totals. As for Vernon Macklin, he contributed 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.

In their second game Sunday, the Clippers lost to the NBA D-League Select Team, 83-77, as stated before. Bullock again led the team with an 18-point effort, Macklin played 13:38 of the game, scoring 8 points and adding 3 rebounds. Johnson only played 3:26 of the game and didn’t score any points.

Demetri McCamey (Courtesy Gabe Hernandez, NBA)

Demetri McCamey (Courtesy Gabe Hernandez, NBA)

Demetri McCamey and the Minnesota Timberwolves

The current Mad Ant and the T-Wolves started out their campaign in Vegas Saturday with a close loss to the D-League Select Team, 83-81, as stated earlier in the article. McCamey did not play in this game.

Minnesota will play their next preliminary round game versus the Phoenix Suns tonight at 6;30 PM ET on NBA TV and online at nba.com/summerleague.

Tony Mitchell (Courtesy AL.com)

Tony Mitchell (Courtesy AL.com)

Tony Mitchell and the New York Knicks

In the Knicks first game of Summer League play, they took on the New Orleans Pelicans in the first game of the league on Friday and lost, 77-72. Austin Rivers of the Pelicans had 24 points to lead New Orleans, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. led the Knicks with 13 points, according to the NBA.com recap. Mitchell did not play, as he was still with the Boston Celtics’ team in Orlando wrapping up their summer league.

The second game was better for the Knicks, as they defeated the Washington Wizards 82-69 on Sunday. Leading the Knicks was Terrence Jennings, who scored 16 points shooting 7 of 11 from the floor and had 8 rebounds and 3 steals as well, according to the NBA.com recap. As for Mitchell, he played 13:12 of the game and scored 3 points and added an offensive rebound.

The Knicks wrap up preliminary round play today versus the Charlotte Bobcats at 4 PM ET to start the day’s action. It’s also live on NBA TV and online at nba.com/summerleague.

Cameron Jones (Courtesy USA Today)

Cameron Jones (Courtesy USA Today)

Cameron Jones and the Golden State Warriors

The former Mad Ant player and his team started their league campaign with a close 56-52 win over the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Leading the way for the Warriors was Kent Bazemore, who scored 21 points and added 5 rebounds to help them overcome a six-point deficit late in the fourth quarter, according to the NBA.com recap. Jones started the game, and managed 2 points, 4 rebounds and a steal.

The next game for the Warriors will be tonight versus the Sacramento Kings at 8:30 PM ET live on NBA TV and online at nba.com/summerleague.

I’ll be keeping you updated throughout the week on all the Summer League action involving the Mad Ants’ players.

P.S. Listed here are links to the schedule of Summer League games and rules:

http://www.nba.com/news/las-vegas-summer-league-2013-schedule/index.html

http://www.nba.com/news/2013-las-vegas-summer-league-game-rules/index.html

NBA Draft: Who each Mad Ant affiliate could pick

Which players are going to get a shot at fulfilling their dreams? Find out tonight by watching the NBA Draft, starting at 7 ET on ESPN.

Which players are going to get a shot at fulfilling their dreams? Find out tonight by watching the NBA Draft, starting at 7:30 PM ET on ESPN.

The NBA Draft is tonight, and that means that the Mad Ants’ four affiliates, the Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, and Detroit Pistons, have decisions to make on the futures of their franchises. Some of these guys they draft will most definitely get starting time in some capacity on those teams. Other guys that could get drafted may not see time with their respective NBA franchise. Instead, they may end up with the Mad Ants.

Here is a look at some players that each team could draft.

Indiana Pacers

For the Pacers’ first pick, Kelly Olynyk, who played power forward/center at Gonzaga, is high on their interest list, according to IndyCornrows.com, a Pacers blog on SBNation.com. He has a specialty as a big man who can shoot from the perimeter, is versatile, can score with his back to the basket, is an efficient scorer, and is a good hustle player, especially on offense. He could be that extra big man that can help Roy Hibbert by adding his three point expertise. However, he’ll have to work on improving his strength and toughness, rebounding ability, and cut down on turnovers, as he averaged 2.4 a game.

The Pacers are also considering four others for their first draft pick. They are Isaiah Canaan, Shane Larkin, Dennis Schroeder, and Giannis Adetokunbo, according to IndyCornrows.com. Canaan, Larkin, or Schroeder could help the Pacers solve their issues at point guard, as D.J. Augustin struggled during the season, forcing George Hill to play more minutes. Either of those three could be a solid backup and help take some of the offensive burden off Hill.

Tony Snell out of New Mexico could be a possible second round draft pick for the Pacers, as they need a shooting guard to help complement Lance Stephenson. He has that outside shooting stroke the Pacers could use in their offense. Snell will have to work on becoming more aggressive and take the ball to the hoop. According to DraftExpress, he tends to be more of a catch-and-shoot type of player, and by working on taking the ball to the rim and becoming more assertive, he will be able to take the next step and become a solid shooter in the NBA.

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks were lucky that the Eastern Conference wasn’t that strong last season, as they got an eighth seed in the playoffs and a sweep by the champion Miami Heat. They’ll have much to do this off-season to improve their team. First, they’ll need to start at point guard since Brandon Jennings is a restricted free agent, and he may not be around next season, and is streaky at best. At the 15 seed, the Bucks have a number of options they could choose from. Shane Larkin is high on their list for a point guard. He could bring a sense of consistency to the role, as well as a high work rate and focus to the team, according to BrewHoop.com. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Dennis Schroeder could also be in contention for the Bucks’ first pick.

As for the second pick, the Bucks could take someone like Allan Crabbe from Cal, who brings another shooting presence to help fill in for Monte Ellis leaving. He would help the Bucks address their backcourt issues. He brings a strong shot ability, as he can shoot over defenders and brings that unselfishness that could help the Bucks, and is 53.8% from the floor when he’s unguarded.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons haven’t been the team they used to be in recent years, but they have some players to build around with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Their needs will likely center around finding more playmakers and outside shooters. Some possible candidates for Detroit include Victor Oladipo from Indiana, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, or C.J. McCollum from LeHigh, according to the Pistons’ NBA Draft page.

DeShaun Thomas from Ohio State could be seen as a second round draft pick, as rated by CBS Sports. He does bring a great shooting ability to the team, and can do it anywhere on the court. Rebounding is an issue there, and he will need to work on improving in that category.

Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats need a lot of help, and as one of the worst teams in the draft, they’ll get to be one of the first picks. Look for anyone like Ben Mclemore of Kansas or Nerlens Noel of Kentucky, or even Cody Zeller of Indiana to be on the Bobcats’ list. Once that first pick is taken care of, they’ll need to look for anything they can get.

This year’s draft should be a good one, with talent all across the board. Tune in at 7:30 PM ET on ESPN.

Feel free to comment with any of your draft predictions for these teams or the overall draft.