The Mad Ants miss injured forward Luke Harangody, no question. Take a double-double average out of the lineup, it hurts. The impressive part is how they've adjusted.
Ants coach Duane Ticknor's plan to assemble a complementary group of players is paying off.
With Harangody out, Ticknor has gotten production from guys who were often playing smaller roles prior, such as Brandon Wallace (16 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks in a win over Idaho) and Chris Porter (17 points, 11 boards in a win over Springfield).
Fort Wayne is 4-2 with Harangody out, a sign of depth and team chemistry.
“I've said from day one, the best talent doesn't always win; the best team wins,” Ticknor said. “You have to put your team together with everything in mind, not just the talent on the floor. Right now, we have great role players who understand their role, and that's hard to do at this level.
“Guys are always trying to go on to a better job,” Ticknor said. “To have people who have accepted those roles makes us a more well-rounded team.”
The Ants (18-19) return to the court to play the NBA Development League East Division-leading Canton Charge (22-14) at 7 tonight in Memorial Coliseum.
Once again, Ticknor will rely on guys like Wallace, who bring not only skill but veteran leadership and savvy.
D-League teams can be filled with jealousy and me-first players. That's not the case with this Mad Ants team, Wallace said.
“It's rare when you get on a team like this,” Wallace said. “I've been on one other team where guys accept their roles and know that at any time a guy can step up and be what the team needs. This is an older group that understands that. The D-League is an individual, stat-driven league, so it's rare to find a group of guys who accept their roles.”
Wallace said his stint with the 2010-11 Bakersfield Jam was his other experience where players bought completely into the team and their roles. The Jam finished 29-21 and made the playoffs that season.
The Ants have their big-numbers producers, including veteran Ron Howard (19.5 ppg) and rookie Tony Mitchell (19.3 ppg), but they do not have the type of selfish shot-hunter who derails the team concept.
The veterans on the team help steer the Ants into a more team-oriented approach.
“I think it's a tribute to leaders like Chris Porter, Tommy (Smith), A-Rich (Anthony Richardson), myself, Ron – guys who have been around and know what it takes to win,” Wallace said.
Ticknor knew that's what he was getting when he pushed to add Wallace, Porter, Smith and Richardson.
“When you've been around the league a few times, you know who those guys are,” Ticknor said. “They're the kind of guys you know will fit with almost any team. You might find a guy who can fill a role on the floor and off the floor, but usually not both. We're pretty fortunate with these guys."
Wallace has had games where he played 12-15 minutes and games – including three of the last five – where he logged 35 or more minutes.
“It's a cliche in sports, but you have to be ready to perform when it's your time,” Wallace said. “I've seen it happen before, where guys go from not playing to playing great. You have to train yourself every day in the gym to be ready.”
Wallace said he's a different player, and more mature in his outlook, than when he came out of South Carolina in 2007. He spent time with the Boston Celtics in 2007, and has played for five D-League teams and teams in Turkey, Poland, Israel and Venezuela.
Wallace, who turns 28 next week, is married, and he and his wife, Artina, have two children, Braylon, 5, and Carson, 1.
“If you're constantly worried about who is getting called up because 'I played better than this guy who got called up,' you'll drive yourself crazy,” Wallace said. “You can lose valuable time messing with your mental psyche. As veteran guys, we know that. Don't worry about stuff you can't control. Keep plugging and keep being a team.”