Three of the most productive players in Fort Wayne Mad Ants history will return to the team this winter.
Chris Hunter, Ron Howard and Walker Russell Jr., all former NBA D-League All-Stars, came to terms with the team for the 2011-12 season, the Ants announced Tuesday.
“I look forward to building this team around this tremendous core,” Mad Ants president Jeff Potter said.
Hunter, a 6-foot-11 center, averaged 19.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for the Ants in 2008-09 and earned a contract with the Golden State Warriors for the 2009-10 season. Last year, he was sidelined with a torn Achilles.
Howard, a 6-5 swingman, has played more games for the Ants than any other player (132) and is the team's all-time leading scorer. He played in Australia last season but finished the season with the Ants in their final eight games as they finished one win short of the playoffs.
Russell Jr., a 6-1 point guard, set an NBA D-League record for assists in a season during his finest year – playing alongside Hunter and Howard – in 2008-09.
Potter said all three players are eager to show their improvement and, ultimately, earn a look from the NBA.
“I can tell Walker is very hungry,” Potter said. “He left and did pretty well in China and went to the Dominican Republic where he was an MVP candidate. I've never seen him work this hard.
“Ron Howard, it's never been a question of his effort and ability and I think he's very hungry.
“Chris Hunter is an NBA player and that's the league where he belongs. He has some things he needs to prove to get over whatever humps have been placed upon him to go to that level.”
Potter said he remains hopeful about signing Huntington native and former Purdue University standout Chris Kramer to a contract for a second year with the team, although Kramer is weighing other options.
“A player that good has a multitude of options,” Potter said. “I've let Chris know we want him here. He's another guy I think can be one of the best players in this league in a multitude of ways – defending, scoring, overall savvy. We hope to get Chris back.”
The Mad Ants will have open tryouts for other players Oct. 22 and 23, with the draft in early November and the opening of training camp shortly after that.
If the NBA lockout continues and the season is delayed or even canceled, the D-League will continue to operate and play games. Potter could not comment on any issues involving the lockout.