Newly hired Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor will be looking for guards and closers.
Ticknor, who has coached against Fort Wayne teams from the days of the Continental Basketball Association's Fury to the current NBA D-League's Mad Ants, lists two essentials for the team he'll be molding.
He needs athletic guards and tough guys who can win games in the fourth quarter.
These aren't always easy to find, incidentally.
“This league, in particular, you have to have really good guards,” Ticknor said Tuesday after being officially introduced as the Ants coach in a Memorial Coliseum news conference. “This is a guard-oriented league, it's fast-paced and you need to be athletic. One of the things they've lacked here is athleticism over the years.”
Ticknor, 57, will retain last year's interim head coach Steve Gansey as an assistant. Ticknor said he has missed the playoffs only once as a head coach. And that came when his team won more games but lost a playoff spot because of “quarter points” in the CBA's gimmick standings.
To reach the playoffs, a team has to be able to make the plays down the stretch of games, Ticknor said. That's where “closers” come in.
“You have to have some tough son of a guns,” he said. “Travel is brutal, the schedule is brutal. …No doubt about it, the fourth quarter is when people start playing defense and again, it comes down to being tough.”
Ticknor coached last season in Korea and spent the two seasons prior to that as an assistant coach with the D-League's Sioux Falls Skyforce. As head coach of the Dakota Wizards, he directed two playoff berths and a Central Division title in 2008.
He had two stints with Dakota (the first when it was in the IBA), and has also coached with the CBA's Gary Steelheads and the Rapid City Thrillers.
The Mad Ants will enter their sixth D-League season and have yet to finish above .500 or make the playoffs. Fort Wayne finished with a franchise-worst record of 14-36 last season.
“I like these situations, trying to basically start from scratch and see what you can do,” he said.
Mad Ants guard Ron Howard said he expects Ticknor to do a good job.
“From having to play against him, and not really wining much against him, I know how well-coached and well-prepared his teams were,” Howard said. “I know how tough they were and things like that. It feels good to know he's on our side now.”
Ticknor vowed to produce a team that plays hard and plays smart, and he plans to be brutally honest with players about their strengths and weaknesses.
He says he intends to instill a winning mindset.
“That's the first thing we'll discuss, in our first meeting: Losing is not acceptable,” Ticknor said. “You have to change the culture a little bit. Players will know you won't accept it. If they can't get the job done, we'll find someone who will.
“Is it going to be easy? Probably not. But I'm really looking forward to the challenge.”