NBA D-League Semifinals
Best of three
Game 1: Mad Ants 113, Sioux Falls 111
Game 2: 7:30 tonight at Memorial Coliseum
Game 3 (if necessary): 7 p.m. Monday at Memorial Coliseum.
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Tonight is the biggest game in Mad Ants history. If you don't jump on the bandwagon, you're missing something cool.
It's your right to pass on the chance, of course. No one from Fort Wayne owes the Mad Ants their attendance. The Ants are a sports team, an entertainment option and you can spend your discretionary money at, well, your own discretion.
But I will say you'll be missing something, and I'm not talking about the $1 sodas and beers at Memorial Coliseum.
Here's what you will miss if you skip the Mad Ants taking on Sioux Falls tonight in Game 2 of their NBA Development League semifinal series:.
For most of their seven-year existence, remember, the Mad Ants stunk. They invented ways to lose. Last year, they turned the corner, making the playoffs for the first time. This year, they're the best team in the D-League. There's nothing quite like the thrill and excitement of reaching a championship round in any sports. If the Ants pull off the win and clinch the best-of-three series – and it's quite possible considering their incredible comeback in Game 1 in Sioux Falls – it'll be a great party.
Ron Howard has given more to the Ants franchise than anyone, playing with the team since Day 1. He should be the league MVP, simply for the way he maintains a high level of play with a team-first attitude. But here's the bonus: Howard dug his roots into this city. His family calls Fort Wayne home. He and his wife, Reesha, run Game Day Sports Camp for kids. Howard is not a player donning a uniform for half a year, in transit. He's one of us now.
There's no way, given the somewhat slight look of his deceptively strong 6-foot-5 frame, that Rojas should be one of the best defenders and rebounders in the league. Yet he is. He has a motto, “No Plays off,” that leads opponents to react, draw technical fouls and throw their teams off balance. Basketball fans in Indiana always love the player who dives for loose balls, sacrifices his body and plays at one level – 100 percent effort. That's Rojas, although on this team he's not alone.
Conner Henry convinced Mad Ants president Jeff Potter that he had a plan when he interviewed for the job. You have to love it when a plan comes together. Henry, who played in the NBA and coached overseas and in the D-League, had a vision for this team and sticks to it. I always thought Tony Mitchell, the dunking machine, should be a starter. Henry likes him coming off the bench. You can't argue that call, and there was Mitchell, hitting the Game 1 game-winner with 4.2 seconds left. Henry was a no-brainer for Coach of the Year.
Here's something else Indiana basketball fans profess to love and the Mad Ants possess to the nth degree. The players are unselfish. Howard and Mitchell average about 20 points per game, but so could every player on the team if they were selfish, me-first types. From Rojas to Matt Bouldin to Trey McKinney-Jones to Tim Ohlbrecht, this team is loaded with scorers. Even the guys who take the fewest shots (Chris Porter, Ramon Harris and recently added Anthony Harris) can fill it up. They choose to share.
I'm partial to Chris Porter because he's a survivor. Here's a guy who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated way back in the day at Auburn University, made some bad choices and took some detours to various parts of the world and has reinvented himself as an elder statesmen. It takes quite a player to be a leader when you're not a starter. “CP” is an undeniable leader.
This team is fun to watch, period. They've had incredible comebacks in the Game 1 road wins in their first two series, trailing by double figures with less than five minutes left in both wins. Credit Henry for instilling the never-say-die attitude and credit the players for embracing it.
Comebacks aside, it's enjoyable to watch Mitchell's high-flying dunks and long range threes, Howard's slippery drives to the basket, Rojas' sixth sense for rebounds, Bouldin's sharp passing touch, McKinney-Jones pure jump shot – I could go on and on.
Despite the Ants' success, only a modest crowd, officially listed as 1,976, came out for the series clincher against Reno last Sunday.
You're not required to attend the Mad Ants game tonight. It's not a civic duty. But if you love basketball, great players and, above all, a great team, why would you miss the fun?