Trey McKinney-Jones is the only rookie on the Mad Ants’ roster, so you might think it would be hard for him to appreciate how long and tumultuous this road has been.
But that’s not the case.
They’ve been trying to get here for seven years and, on top of that, the guys here feel like they owe Santa Cruz for taking them out of the playoffs last year, McKinney-Jones said. I’m all good with that. I like having a chip on my shoulder. It adds a little motivation to this.
If the Mad Ants win tonight at Memorial Coliseum, they will capture the first D-League championship in franchise history.
Even though professional basketball in Fort Wayne dates back to 1925 – including the Pistons of the NBA and the Fury of the Continental Basketball Association – a championship hasn’t been won since the Pistons were victorious in the National Basketball League in 1945.
The Mad Ants had been to the playoffs only once before this season, getting swept in the first round by Santa Cruz last year. This season, they won the regular-season title with a 34-16 record.
In the playoffs, they’ve swept best-of-three series against Reno and Sioux Falls, extending their winning streak at the Coliseum to 16 games, and they opened the best-of-three Finals with a 102-92 victory at Santa Cruz, Calif., on Thursday night.
In that game, Tony Mitchell led Fort Wayne with 25 points, while league co-MVP Ron Howard added 23. Matt Bouldin had 13 and McKinney-Jones and Will Frisby had 12.
Santa Cruz, which was 29-21 in the regular season, and seeded sixth in the playoffs, was paced by 24 points from Cameron Jones, a former Fort Wayne player.
Everyone’s focused in on this. Everyone in the locker room wants this, said Sadiel Rojas, who had 10 points and a team-best 11 rebounds in Game 1 for Fort Wayne.
The Mad Ants aren’t without championship experience. Chris Porter has won five in various leagues, including the CBA, and Tim Ohlbrecht helped Rio Grande Valley to the D-League title last year.
But some of the players – such as Howard, who has been with the Mad Ants for all of their seasons – have been after this for what seems like an eternity.
The message from the likes of Porter and Ohlbrecht has been to play as if there is no next game (even though a Game 3 would be Monday at the Coliseum) and channel the years of disrespect the Mad Ants have experienced into getting the trophy in front of the fans who have stuck with the franchise.
And for McKinney-Jones, the message is appreciate the moment.
I consider myself one of the younger kids, even though I’ve been here for a second, for a little while, said Rojas, who is in his third season. Trey will appreciate it. He knows what time it is. He knows how to get himself prepared for the game and get ready to go. We all do.