FORT WAYNE – What do phosphorous trichloride, binary compounds, nitrous oxide and the resurrection of the Mad Ants all have in common?
Chemistry, Ants first-year coach Duane Ticknor gives the one-word answer. No doubt about it. I don’t think it was close to anything else.
He is, of course, speaking of the Ants’ return to respectability in the NBA D-League standings, enhanced by a franchise-record eight-game winning streak that began with a Dec. 28 home victory over Texas and finally came to rest nearly three weeks later with a loss in Bakersfield, Calif.
Since then, the road-weary Ants have lost two more, dipping them below .500 at 11-13 as they visit Erie, Pa., tonight, with a repeat performance Sunday afternoon. Then, for the first time since Jan. 5, the Mad Ants return to Memorial Coliseum to play East Division-leading Maine on Thursday.
Today’s game, however, will be No. 25 in the 50-game schedule; halfway home in a season that still yields hope for a franchise that has had little of it in its first five years.
I see us as a playoff team, 6-foot-7 forward Anthony Richardson said. Once you get into the playoffs, you got to go from there. But I really feel if we don’t make the playoffs, it will be a disappointment.
Disappointment was the definitive word, along with other choice phrases, the first month of the season.
Despite the return of one of the league’s top point guards and former Detroit Piston, Walker Russell Jr., the acquisition of former Purdue All-American JaJuan Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick in the D-League draft, and the occasional appearances of Pacers properties Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson, the Ants started 3-10.
Changes, Ticknor said, had to be made.
Russell was traded to Reno. In his place, Richardson was shipped to Fort Wayne.
Surprisingly, JaJuan Johnson was dealt to Canton. Taking his spot was former Notre Dame standout Luke Harangody.
Ron Howard, the off guard with the reputation around the league for attacking the rim and possessor of the title Mr. Mad Ant, moved to the point guard spot.
Role players were brought in to play their roles.
And for a three-week stretch, the Ants were the nastiest team in the D-League.
When we acquired Luke and we acquired Anthony Richardson – it’s just the way that both those guys play, said assistant coach Steve Gansey, who was named head coach after Joey Meyer was released 15 games and five wins into last season. Luke played so hard; coming from the NBA; and Anthony Richardson, coming from a new team. Obviously, they have points to prove. It started with those guys.
Harangody made his debut with 19 points and 18 rebounds against Texas. The next night, the Ants went to Erie and won by 24. Santa Cruz came into the Coliseum for two games with the best record in the D-League and got beat by 16 and 28 points. The Ants went to the D-League Showcase in Reno and won twice there. They went back to Erie and won by 28. They flew back to the West Coast, to Los Angeles, and won in the last second.
Then the streak ended two nights later in Bakersfield, where Howard hurt his knee and has been out since.
And we went coast-to-coast twice, Ticknor said. That was the killer.
But the Ants, already revived once this season, aren’t dead yet.
Our goal is to be competitive with everyone in the league, Ticknor said. As long as we keep getting better – which I think we are – I think we’ll have a chance at the end to be where we want to be.