Anthony Harris was among the late arrivals to the retooling of the Mad Ants, and he's amazed at the transformation.
Only four players remain from the team that opened the season in November, and point guard Ron Howard is the only starter left.
Yet the Ants have won eight of their last 11 to reach 11-13 on the season and within striking distance of playoff contention. The season reaches the halfway point at Erie tonight.
“It's extremely hard to make the amount of changes this team made in a short period of time,” Harris said. “It's actually an honor to be playing with a team like this. As a professional, I haven't played with a team like this. They make my job much easier.”
Harris, brought in as a backup point guard, has had to shoulder a heavy load the last three games as Howard was sidelined with a knee injury. Howard's status is day-to-day and could play at Erie either tonight or Sunday. An MRI showed no significant problems with Howard's knee.
Harris, 27, played for Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor when Ticknor was in Sioux Falls. Harris was with Bakersfield last season for six games, but missed most of the year with a string of injuries, he said. He averaged 13 points and 3.8 assists per game for Sioux Falls in 2010-11.
Harris was in Chicago working out when Ticknor contacted him to come and help the Ants. He has averaged 6.3 points and 3.8 assists in nine games with the Ants.
“The tough part for him is he hadn't played for a couple months and we throw him out there 45 minutes a night,” Ticknor said. “That's asking a lot out of him. He's playing well. …He stepped in with 12 assists in L.A. The reason I brought him in is because he's a veteran point guard who understands the system and knows what I like to get done.”
Ideally, Howard would play about 30-35 minutes at the point with Harris handling 15 to 18 minutes in relief, Ticknor said.
Harris played for the University of Miami (Fla.) from 2003-2007, finishing sixth in the school's record books for assists. He averaged 10.2 points and 3.4 assists per game his senior season.
The background relationship between Ticknor and Harris showed in the team's losses the last two games. Ticknor pushed Harris with some pointed words, but the guard didn't mind.
“Maybe the guys around me think, 'Man, he's being too hard on him,' but we have a great relationship,” Harris said. “Tick knows I'm a tough guy. I can handle it. It's good having that type of relationship where the coach knows he can get on you.”
Harris said he hopes his game can improve as he builds his conditioning up to speed. There's no way to simulate game conditions, especially extensive minutes.
“It was tough the last few games,” Harris said. “I'm not making excuses about traveling, but it was hard for my body to adjust after 44 minutes in a game in LA and traveling from the west coast to the east coast. I missed a lot of layups I wouldn't usually miss. You try to put your head down and play through it.”
Harris lists decision-making as the area he wants to improve most in moving forward.
“As a point guard, you have to stay in tune to the adjustments that need to be made in a game,” Harris said.
In a season of adjustments for the Mad Ants, Harris fits right in.