There are four players who are no-brainers to me: Ron Howard, Walker Russell Jr., Tony Mitchell and Sadiel Rojas. The other six spots are open to argument and individual preference.
Any player who donned a Mad Ants uniform is eligible to be on the All-Decade Team. So, if you want to vote for Dahntay Jones, you can. He played 29 games for the Mad Ants (10 in 2007-08 and 19 in 2014-15). He averaged 24.4 points per game in his first stint, 14.4 points per game in his second. He’s an NBA player. A talent.
He’s not on my team.
Jones was here for one reason: Jones. Nothing wrong with that reason, incidentally, since every player is looking out for No. 1. But when I think of the Mad Ants, I don’t think of Dahntay Jones.
If I’m listing the 10 most-talened players to wear a Mad Ants uniform, then Jones is on the list, along with Jordan Crawford (eight games) and Andre Emmett (39 games). Jordan’s time was way too short. Emmett left in the homestretch of a playoff race for an overseas job that wasn’t starting yet.
I’ve covered the Mad Ants throughout their entire 10 years. My All-Decade picks have one requirement: They have to feel like Mad Ants players. That’s a somewhat indefinable characteristic, but they have to have played at least a full season and can’t be a rent-a-scorer like Crawford.
My All-Decade Team won’t be your All-Decade Team. So go vote. Voting ends Sunday. The team will be announced with a decade card set on March 3.
To vote, go to https://decadeteam.formstack.com/forms/all_decade_team
Here is my Mad Ants All-Decade Team:
He’s Mr. Mad Ant. A player doesn’t necessarily want to earn that title, since it requires a long stay in the minor leagues. But Howard embraced Fort Wayne, and still lives here. He gave it his all, put up consistently strong numbers (17.5 points per game over 247 regular-season games) and led the team to the 2014 NBA Development League championship, winning the league’s MVP award. He was an all-around great person and representative of the franchise.
Walker Russell Jr.
2008, 2009, 2011, 2013
Russell played parts of five seasons with the Mad Ants, highlighted by his 10.8 assists per game in 2008-09, setting a since-broken D-League record for assists. He played in 128 regular-season games and compiled 1,097 assists. Russell’s teams didn’t win enough, but he eventually earned a shot with the Detroit Pistons and he produced some thrilling moments in Fort Wayne.
An All-Star and two-time D-League slam dunk champion, Mitchell was the most athletically gifted player to spend significant time with the team. They don’t win the D-League title without him. He played 78 regular-season games, averaged 21.2 points per game and occasionally jumped out of the gym.
2012, 2013, 2014
Despite being 6-foot-4 and ultra-skinny (but unquestionably strong), Rojas led the Mad Ants in rebounding in two of his three seasons with the team. He set a tone defensively, often taking on the opponent’s best scorer and pestering him into frustration. No player gave more on the court in helping the Mad Ants to the D-League title.
2008, 2010, 2011
Wilmont, the former Indiana University guard, holds the Mad Ants record for three-pointers made and attempted. He never met a long-range shot he didn’t love. Wilmont brought energy to the court every game, has coached with the Mad Ants and remains an unofficial part of the team. Like Howard, he has made Fort Wayne his home. Wilmont is now the head coach at Lakewood Park Christian High School.
Wilmont’s IU teammate, Calloway was part of the initial Mad Ants team and he soared. Calloway averaged 18.9 points, 5.8 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game that first season. It was a rough year, with only 17 wins, but Calloway was undeniably the highlight and No. 1 fan favorite. He went on to a highly successful overseas career.
2009, 2011, 2012, 2014
If the big man from Michigan wouldn’t have had knee problems, who knows where he could have taken his career? The only extended playing time of his Fort Wayne career came in 2009 when he led the team with 19.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game and earned All-Star status and an NBA call. He was the recipient of many Russell assists that season.
The Huntington North High School and Purdue University guard played only one season with the Mad Ants – as a rookie – and parlayed it into a long-standing career in Germany. Over the course of the season, Kramer transitioned to point guard, and helped the Ants within a game of their first playoff berth. He remains the only homegrown player to spend a season with the team. Like Calloway, he took off to earn a better living.
2014, 2015, 2017
The only current player on my list, McKinney-Jones delivers consistency, leadership and playmaking to the court. He has played 94 games, starting 91, and was a key player as a rookie on the D-League championship team. He can play any role a coach asks. He’s a class act.
2012, 2014, 2015, 2016
This pick is a sentimental one. Harris was never a star for the Mad Ants, but he appeared in 153 regular-season games, second only to Howard. When he was asked to score, he scored. People forget he scored 30 points in a D-League finals game the season the Ants lost the title to Santa Cruz. When his three-point touch was on, there was no prettier release in the league.
I’m leaving out some great players. Darnell Lazare delivered two strong seasons during a tough loss-riddled stretch. Rob Kurz, the Notre Dame product, was an All-Star. Oliver Lafayette could perform magic with a basketball. Matt Bouldin’s 18-game stint on the title team was invaluable. Mad Ants fans will never forget the intangibles Chris Porter provided. I could go on. Check back in another 10 years.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.