Mad Ants hoping familiarity leads to contentment

Eight players return from previous Fort Wayne teams

Trey McKinney-Jones drives to the basket during a game last season. ( file photo)

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are trying something a little bit unique this season, filling their roster with seven players who have played here before.

“It’s unheard of,” General Manager Brian Levy said. “I’ve been in this league, this is my eighth season, and I don’t think I’ve had more than four or five guys back in a season.”

Those players from last season’s team are Stephan Hicks, Trey McKinney-Jones, Alex Poythress, Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury. Also returning are C.J. Fair and Walter Lemon Jr. from two seasons ago after playing in Europe last year.

“Everybody knows each other, so it’s just a matter of playing well together on the court at the same time,” said Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey, who starts his third season in Fort Wayne and has to find the right mixture. “It’s going to be tough because we have a very deep team. We have a lot of guys the same height, and we have a lot of athleticism. It’s probably the most athletic, deepest team I’ve coached in my last two years.”

The season starts Friday at the Long Island Nets before the Mad Ants come home Tuesday to start the Memorial Coliseum schedule against the Greensboro Swarm. Fort Wayne starts by playing eight of its first 11 games at home.

The other players include veteran DeQuan Jones and rookies Tra-Deon Hollins, Je’Lon Hornbeak, Ben Moore and Edmond Sumner. Sumner and Poythress are on two-way contracts from the Indiana Pacers, meaning whenever they are in town, they’ll be playing a lot. Sumner and McKinney-Jones are currently injured.

The major goal is to make the playoffs for the second straight season, and the NBA G-League has expanded the postseason from eight to 12 teams.

“We wanted to rebuild this thing in a way that fit our image, and Fort Wayne had always been a team that relied on veterans for a number of years,” Levy said. “We had to bring in some young blood so we could have an opportunity for guys to be back multiple seasons. I think we’re reaping the benefit of those first two years of investing time in Walter Lemon, Steph Hicks and Adam Woodbury, these guys who are back now for their second and third years with us.”

There are other advantages that the Mad Ants hope will lead to a fast start.

“Coach Gansey knows these guys not only from an on-court perspective, but from a personality perspective,” Levy said. “We know we have great individuals out here who will play hard and play the right way. These guys know there’s an opportunity to get better, to showcase themselves and try to make it to the NBA or a high-level European job for next year. I think if you don’t have the exact offer you really want, coming back here is a great chance to put yourself in a better position for next year.”

That’s what Fair and Lemon are trying to do this season.

“We have a lot of good players, and we have a chance to make some noise this year,” Fair said. “We’re all rooting for each other to get the chance to go to the next level.”