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Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
On Tuesday, Mad Ants guard Tony Mitchell became the franchise’s first player to be voted the NBA Development League’s rookie of the year.

Ants’ Mitchell voted league’s top rookie

– Mad Ants guard Tony Mitchell, who in a span of 15 days broke the team’s single-game scoring record twice, was named the NBA Development League Rookie of the Year on Tuesday.

The D-League’s 16 head coaches voted on the award – the first time it has been won by a Mad Ants player.

Mitchell, a 6-foot-6, 216-pound wing who played at Alabama, started 45 of his 48 regular-season games for the Ants (27-25), who qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

He was second in the D-League in scoring with a 21.9 average and also averaged 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 35.3 minutes.

Mitchell was also named to the D-League All-Star team and won the league’s slam dunk championship during the NBA All-Star weekend in Houston.

Mitchell was obtained by the Ants in late November. He scored in single-digits in half of his first eight games but reached double figures in 38 of his next 40 regular-season games.

“I was confident in my game, but it grew throughout the year – just being hungry and wanting to win and wanting to make it to the playoffs for the first time for this organization,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell assumed the offensive leadership late in the season when guard Ron Howard was sidelined with a wrist injury. In the Ants’ final seven regular-season games, Mitchell averaged 33 points.

In a triple-overtime victory over Austin on March 22, he broke the single-game scoring record of 44 with 47 points. In the game, he hit a 25-foot, three-point bank shot at the buzzer at the end of the second overtime, then he hit a 15-foot game-winner with 5.4 seconds remaining.

“I kinda told them,” he said of his teammates. “I’ve been shooting it in practice. I finally hit one in a game.”

Fifteen days later, Mitchell re-established the single-game record with 49 points at Sioux Falls in a win that clinched the Ants’ first playoff berth.

“It’s a great honor for him, the organization and his teammates,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “He was fortunate to be around a good group of veteran players who really mentored him and turned him in the right direction, both on and off the court. The way he’s grown, and his maturity level since the time he arrived in Fort Wayne to the day he’s leaving, has been off the charts. I’m really proud of what he’s done.”

Mitchell said he would return to the Mad Ants next season if no other options remain for him. But he expects options.

“It showed a lot of teams, not only in the NBA, but across the world, that I can play the game of basketball,” he said. “It helped me a lot going into the summer. So now, me and my agent are waiting on phone calls.”