Developing and/or finding continuity in the NBA D-League can be incredibly difficult. From year to year, things are constantly changing on a number of different levels. The people change, as many move on to greener pastures. Players realize the NBA dream, or instead opt to go overseas for more money. Coaches and other personnel, can also receive respective call-ups of their own.
Needless to say, expected to stay focused with so much else going on around them, it takes a special group of players and coaches to come together and be successful in the minor league.
Luckily for the first seeded Fort Wayne Mad Ants, they have a sound and dedicated veteran leader in Ron Howard, now the D-League's all-time leading scorer. There's no doubt he helps set the tone for this determined franchise.
Another constant has been assistant coach Steve Gansey, who has been in town, learning and helping his team progress through multiple coaching regimes.
In addition to motivating a newly blended group of young guns to pull together each and every year, coaches are also often tasked with the tough job of keeping such prospects focused when playing time is hard to come by. In a league where everyone is hoping to strut their stuff and get noticed, all the more credit should be given when each and every player is able to buy into a team's system and instead come together to achieve something special as a group.
Clearly a talented team full of potential, the Mad Ants undoubtedly have an array of offensive options they can turn to on any given night. But perhaps what makes them truly successful is their ability to balance such a powerful scoring attack each and every game.
"We probably have over 90 sets on offense. We try and mix it up and do different things each week. For teams attempting to scout us for the playoffs, we don't necessarily want to show them certain sets. We are very deep --- Tony Mitchell, Trey McKinney-Jones, Ron Howard, Matt Bouldin --- we try and divide it between all those guys as much as possible throughout the game," Coach Gansey told RidiculousUpside.com prior to the team's game against the Red Claws last week.
He continued, "We want everyone to get touches. Even with Will Frisby and Tim Ohlbrecht, our big guys, we want to give them some love too, because they're the guys that are getting are guards open. We try to balance things out to give everyone an opportunity."
On Sunday afternoon, the D-League announced its playoff pairings for the first round. The Mad Ants selected the Reno Bighorns as their first postseason opponent. Prior to the selection itself, Coach Gansey revealed a bit more about what goes into making such a choice, and why that very privilege can prove to be tricky.
"It's obviously great to be number one overall and be able to pick your opponent. But as anyone knows, any given night, you can play the worst team in the league and they can be playing well. The records don't really show what the team is necessarily about," he added. "Bakersfield didn't make the playoffs, but they probably won ten out of eleven as the season [came] to a close. You have to look a lot of different factors when it comes to the playoffs. Do you want to travel that far? Do you want a bus? Do you want your fans to go there? Is there a time difference?"
Coach Gansey continued, "It's always nice to pick your opponent, but it goes both ways, because if you lose, it's on you. It's a crapshoot. You never know, but hopefully you get a team that's not playing very well and you just want to see what happens."
As the coach notes, the road to The Finals can prove to be a difficult one, regardless of who one's opponents are. Luckily for the Mad Ants, they have a mentor in Coach Gansey, who has been around the D-League block a bit --- long enough to know what to expect and help his team prepare to the fullest.
Discussing his own experience, the coach asserted, "I came in as a volunteer when I was just 22 or 23 years old. I was a young buck. I've been able to learn a lot from Joey Meyer, Duane Tickner and now, Coach (Connor) Henry. When I was on my own, I was able to pick up a few things too. I'm going to continue learning about this game, and the D-League, each year, from all these beautiful and great minds in our league."
And if they're lucky, Fort Wayne will continue to reap the benefits of Coach Gansey's increasing knowledge well throughout this playoff run.