Jeff Potter has gone viral.
No kidding. Sure, he's recognizable in
When I gave Jeff a call the other day to talk to him about his franchise, the state of the league, and of course, Nightmare Ant, he caught me off guard with this straightforward approach, humility, and generosity. For a league that so often on the receiving end of ignorant ridicule based on false assumptions, Jeff Potter is another example of the class that is found so often in the D-League.
Our conversation after the jump.
RU: How did you become President of the Mad Ants?
JP: I started the team with my father-in-law, he was the CEO and Chairman of AT&T Wireless. He sold AT&T Wireless to Cingular. I was a prosecutor for
RU: You're one of the highest attended D-League games. Can you talk about the community you've built with the Mad Ants?
JP: One of the reasons we came out here was because it has a history of supporting basketball. The Pistons were here. They did relatively well during their ten years here. They support a hockey team very well here, as well as a baseball team. It was voted the #1 minor league market, so it had a lot going for it. We've really focused on entertainment. It's basketball, but it can't just be a bunch of guys out there dunking. So we have a lot of entertainment stuff, we have great halftime shows. The minute you walk in we try and make you feel like you're at something. We'll bring a band in, we bring stuff out. And that's why we've had success. No one's ever walked away from a Mad Ants game saying "That was boring." People like dancing, so we try and have a really sharp looking dance team. You know, unique name, clever mascot.
RU: Can you tell me about the tryout process and what it means?
JP: Maybe you're not on the radar just yet, but you look at a kid like Ron Howard last year. He came to our tryout, actually showed up late. I almost didn't let him in. He ends up making our team. Does great, ends up starting and was one of our most reliable players. And he's in Bucks camp now.
RU: Do you plan on bringing in anyone from last season back in?
JP: Yeah, I mean, they're all invited. I can see Anthony Kyle coming back. Roy Howard, depending on what happens with the Bucks. I think we took our lumps with a young team, because I wanted to build a foundation where some of these guys would come back. You know, you take Eric Smith who was great at our tryout and showed some flashes. What can he do in year two? That's the kind of guy I can see coming back. Our problem last year was we didn't have a lot of consistency from our bigs. I was pretty happy with our guards and wings. All those guys are welcome to come back.
RU: Has there been any discussion about Samb coming back?
JP: A little bit. I'm heading up to talk to them in a few weeks. In my opinion? They may want to keep him up there. It's hard to find guys who are that long with that kind of shooting touch with that great a timing, blocking shots, and he's worked his head off all summer. He looks a lot bigger than he was when he was with us. I can see him getting some minutes up there this year.
RU: You've got three teams affiliated with you right now. I think for the D-League affiliate it's great. I blasted it a bit for possible complications. The Pacers haven't used it much. The Pistons have been very involved. How are you approaching handling three teams?
JP: I see your point. For us, I think it's fantastic. The more the merrier. On the business side, I'm affiliated with three NBA teams, which no one else in this league can say. So as I'm trying to convince people this is the highest level of basketball
RU: It's been less than a month since they announced the Bucks affiliation change. Have you spoken to anyone in the Bucks organization?
JP: A little bit. I know John Hammond from the Pistons last year. He was who I would talk to concerning Cheikh. We're going to make sure we get up there and meet with their staff. We have some familiarity with John, and we just want to reiterate what we do well and find out from his feedback what we need to improve, which is important. We'll do the same with the Pacers. What can we do to make using
RU: One guy that I think might get time in
JP: No, not yet. And I watched him in
RU: I have to keep hammering this point. I wanted to get your perspective as an executive. The biggest challenge that the league faces, I think is salaries. The league tells me that it's complicated. The biggest problem is turnover. Rosters just turnover so quickly. Honestly, Earl Calloway should be on an NBA roster. The fact that he's not blows my mind. And part of the reason he's in
JP: That's the toughest thing. Because if you try and come up much more, none of these teams are going to survive. It's tough. The biggest thing they have to sell this on is that unless the big teams want to invest their own money into players. There are a ton of ideas. It's such a mess to think about what you'd have to do there with collective bargaining in that situation. Like, with Earl, making as much as he is in
To your point about Calloway, you're right. .A guy that does the right things, you'd like to see him be rewarded. Because then my spiel will make a lot more sense and agents will then be able to convince their players to make that investment.
RU: Can you tell me about how the blog started?
JP: The blog is something I thought would be a good idea to do, to talk about starting a team. It helps to give insight into the process. Hey, it may be completely boring. I think I get more attention talking about Britney Spears and whatever. But it's fun. It's fun to read blogs like yours and read your name out there occasionally. The Nightmare Ant thing is big, obviously. Hopefully I can give some info on guys like Calloway, like Wilmont, to keep people interested. Something to avoid people forgetting about us between May and November.
RU: The Nightmare Ant thing has obviously blown up. I have to tell you, you need to just change the name to Nightmare Ant. If you do that, the Blogosphere will love you for it.
JP: I know, but I have to balance that. I've got all these kids that already cry if they see him. If I call it Nightmare Ant, no little kid will ever want to get near it. I'm trying to work a balance with his alter-ego.
RU: Can you tell me who came up with the mascot design? It's fascinating. You need to bring him out to the All-Star game this year.
JP: The guy who did it, I had this name. And I thought "What am I going to name this thing? The Mad Ants? What kind of mascot am I going to have? A lot of the time you get a little bubbly mascot. I didn't want that. This guy came in, a former basketball player in Fort Wayne. He came in and he had the logo, the colors, the design, everything. And that crystallized it in my mind. He's fantastic, man. He really worked long and hard on making it marketable. I don't know why everyone isn't calling this guy to do their work. He's so sharp and talented. I don't think there's a better mascot than the Mad Ant. He's buff, too. He might be on roids, though.
RU: You've got Jaren Jackson coming in. What's the direction the team's going to take under him?
JP: Jaren learned under some great coaches. Bill Fitz, obviously Popovich during his Championship run. I think you'll see a focus on defense. I think that was one thing he tried to implement in the middle of the season. People are in their grooves and rhythms by that point, but I think this year you'll see better shooting. Last year our three point shooting was abysmal. I think you'll see a team a year older. There are challenges being an expansion team. A lot of the guys who we have returning have a year under their belt. They can learn from some of the things that worked and didn't work last year to help us improve in year 2. Jaren is incredibly prepared, incredibly smart, he studies his stuff and he's knowledgeable. He's got those things, and we're headed in the right direction.
RU: I assume you left Earl Calloway vulnerable in the expansion draft?
JP: No, I didn't. Sure, he’s over there. But what if it doesn't work out? What if he doesn't like it over there? What if he comes back? He's Mr. Mad Ant. A great player, a great person, a great asset. Even if the odds were one in a million, I wanted to make sure we'd have him if he came back.
RU: What are your thoughts on expansion?
JP: Love expansion. I would love for them to expand more teams to the Midwest so we can travel less. You'll find players, if dilution of talent is the concern. What are they concerned about?
RU: The Western teams are worried about longer road trips, I think.
JP: Cry me a river. Listen, the more the merrier. The more teams, the better. The more people wanting a franchise, which helps pay for the salaries. The more national face it gets. The more value to your franchise. Those Triple-A Baseball teams sell for tens of millions of dollars. You get those one on one relationships with the big clubs. I get three, but if that relationship is more intimate, all the better. Hopefully you'll start to see reduced travel if they can add some of these old CBA markets. It's the fastest growing league out there. It's got a buzz about it. I'd hate to take a step back from that by not building. But what do I know? Hell, I've only been doing this for a year.
RU: Last question. Even with the loss of Earl and the players going overseas, are you excited for next season?
JP: Am I? Oh, yeah. You're sitting here all summer, doing nothing, just selling tickets. When we opened last year, I couldn't believe we had ten people, much less 7,000. Honestly, if all those people hadn't come to our games it wouldn't be where it is. I've been all over the world. But this is the best basketball league you're going to find outside of the NBA. It's an exciting brand of basketball and I hope people come out for it. I'm not looking forward to all the work I gotta do, but I'm looking forward for the season.