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Last updated: Fri. Nov. 23, 2012 - 05:57 am EDT

Mad Ants tip off season ready to move up

Rookie JaJuan Johnson will be joined by two Pacers tonight

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After finishing with the worst record in the NBA Development League last season, the Mad Ants have only one direction to go. The question is how fast they start moving that way.

Only four players with any ties to last season return as the Ants open up the 2012-13 season at home tonight: point guard Walker Russell Jr., shooting guard Ron Howard, small forward Sadiel Rojas and center Sean Sonderleiter.

No.1 draft pick JaJuan Johnson will be joined by a wealth of newcomers and supplemented this weekend by Indiana Pacers assignees Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson.

The Ants play the Erie BayHawks at 7:30 tonight in Memorial Coliseum.

“I think we've got a lot of pieces here,” new coach Duane Ticknor said. “I don't know if the final drawing is on the board. We've got a good core, a good solid nucleus of guys who can win at this level. We have some veterans and some good, young, energetic guys.”

Russell will play a major role early, as he can use his experience as a five-year D-League veteran and his time last season with the Detroit Pistons.

“Having a point guard who is not only a veteran but a quality veteran is probably the head of the dragon of any team on any level,” Ticknor said. “From a coaching standpoint, his value is unlimited.”

Russell hopes to earn another NBA shot, but is committed to doing his best to push the Ants to a fast start.

“I'm excited,” Russell said. “I think for the first time we're a lot more athletic in places we weren't in previous years. Tick does a good job giving guys all the confidence in the world at the offensive end. A lot of it is on me and Ron (Howard) and even Mike (Anderson) likes to get out and run.”

Howard, the franchise's all-time leading scorer, also says the foundation is there for a much better start to this season.

“There is a lot of energy and it's a deep team,” Howard said. “I think we have a real shot to be good if we continue to get better every day and work hard at gelling as a team.”

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