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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Ron Howard of the Mad Ants was NBA Development League co-MVP this season.

Kings of the hill: Mad Ants join city’s rich hoops tradition

A few days before the Mad Ants won the NBA Development League title, Sports Illustrated ran a column about swingman Ron Howard, who has been around long enough and played well enough to be known as Mr. Mad Ant.

The piece had nice things to say about Howard, to be sure, as well as about his wife, Reesha (Mrs. Mad Ant.)

But the column also reflected well on the team, as well as the community it plays for.

“Howard drives to every home game with his wife and daughters, and as they turn down Clinton Street toward the arena, they say a prayer,” wrote Lee Jenkins in “Meet the Ant Who Won’t Cry Uncle.”

“We used to pray for Ron to make the NBA, but now I realize that’s so foolish,” Reesha Howard told Jenkins. “We just thank God for allowing him to do what he loves. I never wanted to be one of those Basketball Wives anyway. We’ve gotten so much more out of being here. We’ve gotten a real home.”

Fort Wayne basketball fans love the Howards, as SI makes clear. He’s been with the Ants, with breaks to play abroad, since the franchise began in 2007. Three times an all-star, twice given the sportsmanship award, Howard this spring became the D-League’s all-time leading scorer.

Indeed, the city should be proud of all its Ants.

Among those who congratulated them was Mayor Tom Henry, who is planning to thank the team officially at a ceremony this week. “The Mad Ants are part of a rich history of professional basketball tradition in Fort Wayne,” Henry wrote. “The Mad Ants are also a strong corporate partner in our community. We appreciate their involvement with kids and families by providing an entertaining style of basketball that’s enjoyed by all.”

The team raced through the D-League playoffs, defeating Reno, Sioux Falls and Santa Cruz 2-0, 2-0 and 2-0. A key shot by Howard and 32 points by Tony Mitchell, who in February took the league’s slam-dunk contest for the second season in a row, keyed the final game win. But the season was a triumph for the team as a whole – and for coach Conner Henry, who came here last fall and turned a group that had made only its first playoff appearance in 2013 into a championship juggernaut. Fittingly, the D League made Henry coach of the year – before the finals.

This is a team with some loyal fans that deserves to have a bigger following. It’s called the Development League for a reason – by next season, several of the Ants could have been called up by an NBA team. But now there’s a title to defend and a tradition of excellence for Coach Henry to start building on.