And Another Thing

JG columnist Ben Smith looks to the past to describe Mad Ants run

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Ben Smith

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Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette
The Mad Ants’ Tim Ohlbrecht, left, and Chris Porter watch the ball go through the basket during Friday’s game at Memorial Coliseum.

Culture change raises Ants goals

– So now you think this, watching the basketball rise and fall like goose down off Ron Howard’s hand, up and down, over and over, making the net ripple in exactly the same way every time it splashes down:

Maybe it really was as easy turning all those L’s into W’s.

Maybe you blow the dust off the creakiest axiom in the book – winning begets winning – and realize that it still works, that the moving parts still mesh true. Winning is a habit just like losing is. There is a rhythm to it just like there is to losing, and when you find it, the only thing you marvel at is why it took so long.

And so here comes Howard now, his day’s work done, saying, listen, these Mad Ants didn’t become the D-League’s standard for excellence overnight. It goes back to last year, when, for the first in the franchise’s history, they breached .500 and made the playoffs, going 27-23. It goes back to the first time in six years, really, that opposing teams took the floor against the Mad Ants with something approaching reluctance.

“Coming into games, we could tell the other team didn’t want to play us,” Howard recalls. “That was new.”

And this? A 34-16 final regular season record, best mark in the D-League?

Just a continuation call.

“Coming into this season, I kind of knew what to expect and knew what we expect as an organization now,” Howard goes on.

“And that’s to win. So this is what we expected to have happen. We want to win, and we want to put ourselves in a position where we’re not counting on someone else to lose for us to get into the playoffs or anything like that.”

And that, too, is new. The 34 victories are seven more than the previous club record, which was established last year. And it’s only two fewer than they put up in their first two seasons combined, when they went 36-64.

That set a tone, too, those first two seasons, and it took four more seasons and the right coach, Duane Ticknor, to break the cycle. And then it took the right coach again, Conner Henry, to build on what Ticknor started, to keep the momentum going by instilling the idea that the stat line the NBA is likely to notice the most is the stat on the left side of the won-loss column.

Which means the more you’re willing to give up the rock, the more you stand out. Counter-intuitive as that might seem.

“Really, at the end of the day, it’s about sharing the basketball,” Henry says. “Because when we share the basketball, we play harder on defense, we rebound better, and the essence of the game is respected because everybody gets to touch it. And it’s worked.”

It’s worked because the players have bought in. And they’ve bought in because management has put a roster together that would buy in.

“Everyone has done such a great job of putting this team together,” Howard says. “We have so many different weapons. Matt (Bouldin) may be hot, or Tony (Mitchell) or Tim (Ohlbrecht) or Sadiel (Rojas) or Trey (McKinney Jones). Ramon (Harris) may come in and hit four threes. CP (Chris Porter) a couple games ago.

“They’ve done such a good job of putting together a deep team that it’s difficult to scout us, I would assume. And it’s easy for us to play when everyone knows they’re going to get shots. We see that when you play that way, good things will happen.”

Good things in abundance.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.