FORT WAYNE – Conner Henry wasn’t sure.
He could see Will Frisby had 6-foot-8, 235-pound size, something the Mad Ants desperately needed. But he also knew Frisby, 32, had been out of professional basketball for four years, working for a church in Cooper City, Fla.
When you’ve just been hired for the biggest coaching job of your career, and you’re charged with the task of taking a historically bad team to the next level, is that the type of player you can really build with?
In the end, team president Jeff Potter vouched for Frisby and the results were clearly seen Sunday. Frisby scored 17 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter – he made seven straight shots – and the Mad Ants defeated the Reno Bighorns 115-93 to clinch the first series in the franchise’s seven seasons.
I’m proud of Will for a reason. He’s had to play two roles, said Henry, who has asked Frisby to be a center, a role player and, most of all, patient. He’s had to play the 5 and had to play a little bit of the 5. And he’s taken his role and gotten better and worked incredibly hard since really the tryout date. Jeff made the right call and convinced us he would be an integral part of the team.
Frisby had played for the D-League’s Dakota Wizards from 2007 to 2009. He was honorable mention all-league in 2009, after averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Our former coach, Duane Ticknor, told me that he wanted to play again and I jumped on it, Potter said. I thought he was one of the best centers in the league when he was with Dakota and he has been really good for us.
As the Mad Ants won the regular-season championship, Frisby, a former college player for Miami, averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds through 48 games. He started 30 of them but still averaged only 17.8 minutes.
Only once before Sunday had he scored 20 points this season, totaling 23 against lowly Maine on March 9.
They had the confidence in me to come out in the fourth (Sunday) and give me some open shots toward the basket, Frisby said. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my point guard, Matt Bouldin, because he made sure to give me the ball in positions to which I could score.
The Mad Ants await Sioux Falls, which eliminated Canton on Monday night. The next series will begin Thursday at Sioux Falls before returning to Memorial Coliseum on Saturday.
The Mad Ants had been in only one other playoff series, getting swept by Santa Cruz last year.
We’ve been one of the teams in the league to get the least respect, I feel, Frisby said. We’ve been the No. 1 team for a good portion of the season, but we’re not the team that’s talked about. We feel that and we know that, but we want to make sure we’re the team that’s on top at the end of the playoffs.
Veteran players Frisby, Chris Porter and Tim Ohlbrecht have made huge contributions, bolstering stars Ron Howard, Tony Mitchell and Trey McKinney-Jones.
We definitely have a great group of guys and we’re keying in down the stretch right now and we’re sticking together, Frisby said. I’ve never been on a team that really has that family orient the way we do right now. We really have each others’ backs. Tony Mitchell had a tough call with that technical at the rim (and was ejected in the fourth quarter Sunday), and instead of him getting upset, we all came together and understood we have to take it to another level.