The Mad Ants still have another day before the NBA D-League Draft, but they're off to a solid start in stocking their roster already.
Leading scorer Chris Hunter and playmaking guard Ron Howard, along with Anthony Kent, DeWitt Scott and Sean Sonderleiter, have signed contracts to return to the team in 2009-2010.
The D-League draft is 7 p.m. Thursday, and the team will host a party for fans at Crazy Pinz, 1414 Northland Blvd. Admission is free.
The 6-foot-11 Hunter, the Ants' leading scorer last season, was signed by the New York Knicks at the end of last season, but was released during training camp.
“It's a really tough thing because you want him to make it (in the NBA),” Mad Ants coach Joey Meyer said. “When he doesn't make it, yeah, you want him back. He's pretty good. Everybody around here says he's a great young man as well as a great player.”
Howard also went to camp with the Knicks and considered pursuing an overseas job. Record-setting assist specialist Walker Russell Jr. is playing overseas, as is Earl Calloway, the team's MVP from two years ago, Ants President Jeff Potter said. Meyer says success in the draft hinges on research, flexibility and sometimes a little luck.
“I guarantee you in at least two rounds, we'll have that guy we want on the board and the team right before us will pick him,” Meyer said. “I guarantee it's going to happen twice. It always happens.”
That's why Meyer will have a big draft board, a personal spreadsheet and a career's worth of intuition at his disposal when the Ants make their picks in the draft Thursday.
Meyer, who enters his first season as Ants coach, said he enjoys the strategy of selecting players in the draft, no matter how maddening the process can be. Unlike the NBA, D-League teams don't have the luxury of bringing players in and working them out in person before the draft. The Ants held an open tryout last month, and Meyer expects to invite two or three players to training camp, which opens Nov. 13.
“Putting the team together is like a puzzle, and you're trying to put it together and piece it together and that can change overnight,” Meyer said. “You think you've got it, then a guy goes overseas or a guy gets assigned to you (by the NBA) and it changes.”
In addition to the draft, the Mad Ants will also receive two allocated players, based on their local ties. While those players have not yet been announced, they could come from a group that includes former Notre Dame players Kyle McAlarney and Rob Kurz and former Indiana University players Marshall Strickland, A.J. Ratliff and Rod Wilmont. Wilmont played with the Ants two years ago.
“The real excitement comes right after the draft when you've got your team and you start game-planning and all that stuff,” Meyer said. “I enjoy the coaching part. But I do enjoy trying to piece together a team, too.”