Led by 2013-14 Coach of the Year Conner Henry, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants have made it to the D-League Finals in each of the last two seasons.
After winning a minor league championship in the first year (2013-14), perhaps one would have expected it'd be just as easy for the team to make a return to The Finals, let alone win another title, too.
But as fate would have it, Fort Wayne still experienced its share of ups and downs. Like in just about situation in the D-League, it's difficult to develop continuity, especially when certain moving pieces depart and a squad is forced to acclimate new ones into a respective system rather quickly, all the while hoping to find a similar rhythm in the process.
Though they won't often give themselves too much credit, usually a respective coaching staff is to thank, if and when things come together seamlessly.
A month before the postseason began, it was anyone's guess as to whether or not the Mad Ants would sneak into the playoffs. After doing so, however, Coach Henry led the group back to the promise land, even if they weren't able to convert and go all the way for a second straight season.
Last season, assistant coach Steve Gansey played a big role in the team's success. His departure to the Canton Charge undoubtedly left a void, but the team found a replacement in quite the notable figure.
That would be none other than NBA, minor league, and international veteran Jaren Jackson, who started at shooting guard for the San Antonio Spurs during the team's championship run (and subsequent win) in 1999.
Ever since his playing days came to an end, the former sharpshooter has been known as Coach Jackson, having served all over in a number of roles. This past season marked the Indiana native's second stint with the Mad Ants. Coincidentally enough, he made quite the impact.
"With Coach Jackson's experience in the NBA, he's brought so many tiny nuances to our game plans and practices. That's really made a difference in our success this year," Coach Henry told RidiculousUpside.com.
But just how special is it to have someone of Jackson's stature and magnitude, boasting experience not many others have, as a part of one's staff?
"It's really important. It's been a tremendous help. He played in the old CBA. He played overseas. He played in the NBA. Coach Jackson has dealt with the travel and the hardships of playing in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the middle of winter, knowing they had to win a game," Coach Henry asserted. "He's struggled through it and I think that helps with the guys on our team. They know that the guys on our coaching staff have gone through that. We can be aware and sympathetic to that, in order to help them."
Such an opportunity hasn't been lost on Jackson, who began exploring D-League coaching possibilities last summer following time spent as a head coach in Canada.
"Conner has done a great job in including me. I was appreciative [when he] approached me. I live in Indiana, so it made this pretty convenient. I decided it was a good fit for me at the time. I wasn't sure where I was going to be. I was hoping for [a head coaching opportunity] with all the new teams coming up, but this opportunity came to me," Coach Jackson explained. "As I was trying to decide if I wanted to leave home or not, this turned out being a pretty good fit for me. Being associated with Coach Henry, I thought everything was kind of set. This team was just coming off of a championship win. But when I learned they were looking for an assistant, that was cool. I jumped on it."
And now, as he looks back at this past campaign, the NBA vet looks forward to continuing on in the D-League.
"It gave me a chance to be close to my son and my wife. That's been a challenge for me as I pursue coaching opportunities. I want to be back here next year if the opportunity presents itself," he said. "Hopefully we can see to it that we get to The Finals again."