For more on the Mad Ants, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
Mad Ants guard Dairese Gary had a quick initial reaction when he found out he was moving back to his home state.
“My first thought was, 'Aw, I'm back in the cold,' ” Gary said. “But I was very excited. One of the things I thought about was being back close to home and having that family support system.”
Gary, a native of Elkhart, spent the bulk of the last five years in Albuquerque, N.M., where he went as University of New Mexico coach Steve Alford's first recruit on his journey west.
Gary, who played at Concord High School, was a pivotal player in Alford having immediate success at New Mexico. But Gary's senior season in 2010-11 ended late in the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. It was a tough time, and forced Gary to miss his first would-be pro season while rehabilitating.
After working back into shape, he entered the NBA Development League draft and was selected in the first round by the Los Angeles D-Fenders. In a trade that was discussed prior to the draft, the D-Fenders shipped Gary to Fort Wayne in exchange for big men Jarrid Famous and Darnell Dodson.
In a few practice sessions with the Mad Ants, Gary has already met some high expectations. He is challenging for the point guard spot with veteran Walker Russell Jr. and Dante Williams, who was signed after an open tryout.
“We knew he was good,” Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “He's better than we anticipated.”
The plan is that Gary can join Russell in giving the Ants two quality point guards. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Gary is bigger than the 6-foot, 170-pound Russell.
Ticknor said he feels Gary would be able to run the Ants well.
“If Walker gets called up or goes overseas or hurts his hamstring, whatever, we know we have a solid player there,” Ticknor said. “(Walker) has had to pick it up in training camp. He isn't able to coast. Those other guards are pushing him to the limit.
“Williams is a free agent we picked up at the open camp in Detroit. He's very athletic. He just doesn't have quite the understanding those two guys do. Walker and Dairese can flat-out run a team.”
Gary said he suffered the usual frustration of a knee injury, wondering when and if he could get his game back on track. He worked out regularly to strengthen his leg and feels ready to embark on his pro career a year later than he originally hoped.
“I'm doing real good,” Gary said. “I got out of my brace a little bit ago and I've been working back up to things. I'm anxious to test it and see how good it really is. …Coach Alford and my teammates put me in a good position to go play at the next level after college. The knee set me back, and I had a few problems, but I'm back now.”
Gary is back home again, and cold again, in Indiana. As long as he stays hot in the gym, his career can pick back up where it left off.