As it currently stands now, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are slated to be the only NBA D-League team hosting multiple affiliates next season. How that will work remains to be seen, as there will assumedly need to be a slew of different stipulations, rules, and other regulations pertaining to the squads' use of the affiliate in order to maintain organization.
But who can ask for a greater organization than the Mad Ants to be affiliated with, when things are all said and done? Fort Wayne is not only now home to the 2013-14 NBADL champions, but also the co-M.V.P. Ron Howard and Coach of the Year in Conner Henry.
Howard and Coach Henry are just two of the handful of familiar faces leading the way for the D-League Select Team in Las Vegas during NBA Summer League. As fate would have it, Coach Henry brought along a few extra friends for the ride, including Mad Ants' assistant coach Steve Gansey, video coordinator Dylan Murphy, and the team's ever-athletic high-flying forward, Tony Mitchell.
So far, such familiarity across the squad has resulted in some positive continuity. It's clear that, even early on, the D-League Select Team is already reaping the benefits of the well oiled machine Coach Henry and co. run in Fort Wayne.
Despite dropping its first game to the New Orleans Pelicans earlier in the week (by a score of 83-81), the minor league's representative roared back on Saturday afternoon. They fought hard, keeping the pace and matching the Atlanta Hawks move for move. After a long-fought battle, the NBA D-League Select Team emerged victorious following a sudden death (aka double overtime) finish, winning 94-92. A basket by Springfield Armor forward Devin Ebanks was the icing on the cake.
Discussing his team's dramatic victory, Coach Henry said, "We want to win here, so that we can prove these players in the D-League deserve a chance. Our goal is to win, but it really was a crazy finish. Once I learned it was sudden death, there was a sense of urgency."
Whereas Howard may have been just as relieved to earn the victory, he wasn't exactly one to have enjoyed all of the theatrics along the way. He added, "I don't personally like it, but I'm sure it's exciting for the fans. That's why we're here and why we do what we do. I'm sure it's great for them, but for us, it's crazy."
Howard finished with 12 points and 2 steals in the win, while his Fort Wayne teammate, Mitchell, led his squad with 20 points.
There's no doubt that both players had impressive outings en route to helping the Select Team secure a victory. That said, perhaps some spotlight should also be on Coach Henry, who was rewarded with the head coaching post of this team following his achievement of Coach of the Year honors just this past season. Like many of the D-Leaguers hoping to prove they have what it takes to compete against NBA-level talents, Coach Henry also finds himself in an unique situation. He too, is matching up with NBA employees, this time in the form of big league assistant coaches.
Coach Henry spoke to RidiculousUpside.com following the victory, and said, "This is a lot of fun. I know a lot of the guys, such as Darvin Ham. He was on Mike Brown's staff in Los Angeles when I was with the D-Fenders. It's a proving ground for all of us." He continued, "You try and get your team to understand things like spacing on the floor, sharing the basketball, and simply never giving up, in the short amount of time that you have. I think we did that and that's why we beat Atlanta."
The coach's top player, Howard, also seemed to echo such sentiments about the opportunity. Explaining his choice to join the team (otherwise known as a group of surprising underdogs), he said, "The D-League is a wonderful league. It's run the right way and the guys are really talented. Even if you look around, there are D-League guys that show up on [NBA] squads. It's a talented group of guys."
The veteran guard concluded by adding, "We're in a different situation than most others, because we've already been evaluated all season long. We've made a name for ourselves. This tournament is about seeing us play the right way and be professional. It's slightly easier for us to play the right way, because we're comfortable in who we are as players."