Off the court, Sadiel Rojas is one of the friendliest, most approachable professional basketball players you'll ever meet.
On the court, he's an irritant that drives opponents to, shall we say, poor judgment.
Los Angeles D-Fenders forward Shawne Williams is the latest example. Williams lost his temper with Rojas and was ejected after picking up his second technical foul in the third quarter of the Mad Ants' 125-121 win over the D-Fenders on Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum.
“I came to play hard, no plays off, rebound every possession and that's what I did,” Rojas said. “I guess Williams didn't agree.
“He got a little frustrated that I was playing as hard as I wanted to play and going for every rebound. A lot of guys that feel like they're higher caliber don't like that. They don't like to play against a guy like me.”
Rojas says it's become a pattern: He goes all-out 100 percent of the time. The players he guards go out of their minds.
“That's like the fourth guy that's got ejected this year against me, and trying to fight me and threatening to kill me after the game, and telling me they're going to come after me in the locker room. Last year, same thing,” Rojas said. “When they start talking, I let it go because I know the refs are going to come and step in and give techs. It's momentum, like taking a charge or dunking on someone.”
Rojas' effectiveness in taking Williams out of the game was just one of the reasons why the Ants prevailed in a battle of two of the league's top three teams. Fort Wayne improved to 28-15, still second-best in the league behind Rio Grande Valley (29-13). The Ants travel to Iowa on Thursday.
Second-year guard/forward Tony Mitchell played a role, scoring a game-high 26 points. Mitchell continues to impress coming off the bench. Veteran guard Ron Howard was smooth as always, with 22 points and four assists. Matt Bouldin scored 13, with eight rebounds and six assists. Tim Ohlbrecht had 10 rebounds. Everyone who played had at least eight points. This is a team in the true sense of the word.
There's no question that Rojas gives the Ants something that not every team has, a guy willing to do the heavy lifting, even though he's small by forward standards at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds. Compare Rojas to the 6-9, 230-pound Williams, a former Indiana Pacers first-round pick who has appeared in 26 games with the Lakers this season. He was the D-League Performer of the Week last week.
Rojas filled up the box score Tuesday, scoring nine points with nine rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Williams became frustrated by Rojas' frenetic play, constant blocking out and crashing the boards and generally being an irritant because of nonstop effort.
“They love the type of player I am if I'm on their team,” Rojas said. “If I'm not on their team, they hate me. I guess they're trying to compare me to Dennis Rodman or something like that. That coach said I'm the dirtiest player ever. I'm not doing anything dirty, I'm just playing hard.”
Rojas' effort is part of a culture that has grown with the Ants this season. It's a culture of players willing to put the team ahead of their personal goals and agendas. That's almost impossible to achieve in the NBA, let along the NBA D-League. Guys want minutes so they can attract the NBA scouts. They want numbers for the same reason.
To subjugate personal stats for a D-League team almost goes against human nature.
“It's not as hard as you think; we're all trying to win,” Mitchell said. “Whatever minutes are given me, I try to go out and do what I can do and try to get us a win.”
There are seven games left before the playoffs. The Mad Ants have a shot at the league's top seed. If they don't snare the No.1 seed, it won't be for lack of effort, especially if Rojas has anything to say about it.
Rojas loves the phrase “No plays off.” The players he ends up guarding know exactly what that means.
MAD ANTS 125, LOS ANGELES 121
Los Angeles: C. Williams 7-15 0-0 19, S. Williams 6-10 2-2 17, Costner 6-13 3-4 17, Ingram 5-13 2-2 16, Magette 7-15 0-1 15, Southerland 3-7 2-2 9, T. Williams 8-15 1-8 21, Gamble 3-7 0-0 7. Totals 45-95 10-19 121.
Fort Wayne: Rojas 3-6 2-4 9, McKinney-Jones 4-5 2-2 10, Frisby 7-11 1-1 15, Bouldin 6-12 0-0 13, Howard 10-16 2-6 22, Ohlbrecht 4-6 0-0 8, Porter 2-3 5-8 9, Mitchell 10-20 2-2 26, Franklin 2-5 8-8 13. Totals 48-84 22-31 125.
Three-point goals: LA/21-47 (C. Williams 5-12, Ingram 4-6, T. Williams 4-10, S. Williams 3-3, Costner 2-5, Gamble 1-2, Southerland 1-4, Magette 1-5), FW/7-15 (Mitchell 4-6, Franklin 1-1, Rojas 1-3, Bouldin 1-3, McKinney-Jones 0-1, Ohlbrecht 0-1). Rebounds: LA/38 (S. Williams 8, Costner 8), FW/51 (Ohlbrecht 10, Rojas 9, Bouldin 8). Assists: LA/25 (Magette 13), FW/23 (Bouldin 6, Howard 5). Steals: LA/12 (Magette 4, C. Williams 3), FW/5. Blocks: LA/1, FW/4 (Rojas 2). Turnovers: LA/15, FW/23. Total fouls: LA/22, FW/22. Technical fouls.: LA/S. Williams 2. Attendance: 2,492.