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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants forward Jarrod Uthoff earned a contract from the Dallas Mavericks last season and could get a similar deal soon this season.

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants guard Trey McKinney Jones scores over Magic guard Jamel Artis in the fourth quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants guard Tra-Deon Hollins scores over Magic guard Troy Caupain in the fourth quarter at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018 1:00 am

G League players are in the spotlight

Showcase coincides with 10-day contracts

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The G League boasts that more than 50 players have been called to the NBA either during or immediately following the annual G League Showcase, which is being held for a 14th consecutive year, and the players participating are aware of that.

Just about any longtime G League player can tell you stories of going to the Showcase and seeing some opponent or teammate selfishly trying to put on a show for the NBA scouts, since all 30 NBA teams will have them under one roof, while coaches are left scratching their heads.

The important thing to keep in mind for teams is that the Showcase games – and each team plays two of them in Mississauga, Ontario – count in the regular-season standings. But NBA teams could have started signing players to 10-day contracts Friday, so now is the time when pilfering of talent from the G League gets in full force.

“It's a different atmosphere, but it's more mental than anything,” Mad Ants guard Trey McKinney Jones said. “I think guys put too much pressure on themselves. We know that there will be scouts from all the teams in the building, but they've been looking just as much at our other games as those two (Showcase) games. Those two games aren't going to determine whether you get a call-up or not. I learned from experience, you need to just relax, go out there and play, not worry about the atmosphere and what's going on in the stands.”

The Mad Ants (14-10) take on the Oklahoma City Blue (14-11) at 2:30 p.m. today – it airs on ESPNU – and face the league-worst Salt Lake City Stars (4-22) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hershey Centre.

With their first three-game winning streak since November, the last thing the Mad Ants need is to stray from the formula of Sunday's 105-79 victory over the Lakeland Magic.

“We're just coming together,” rookie guard Tra-Deon Hollins said. “We're trying to string together wins. That losing stuff was starting to get old. We've got it together as a team.”

In past years, the NBA's Indiana Pacers have toyed with the Mad Ants' dynamic by sending players such as Joe Young and Rakeem Christmas to the Showcase to audition for trades. So far that hasn't happened, though rookie center Ike Anigbogu is expected to be with them at least today.

Walt Lemon Jr. is averaging 23 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals. Jarrod Uthoff, who last season earned a contract with the Dallas Mavericks, is averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds.

“We're playing more like a unit. We're coming out here every day, playing together and trying to get better,” said Hollins, whose Mad Ants are a half-game back of the Wisconsin Herd for the Central Division lead.

The Mad Ants were winless at the last two Showcases. Oklahoma City is atop the Midwest Division with guard Bryce Alford, son of former Indiana University player and Manchester University coach Steve Alford.

With the Mad Ants having worked on their conditioning, and playing at the frenetic pace that led them to a 8-1 start, they believe this Showcase will bring good things.

“One of our offensive staples is to run the floor, but we've got to run with purpose,” coach Steve Gansey said. “We've got to run our lanes. Early on (this season), we were playing pretty well. Then we struggled a little bit. Now we're on a three-game win streak and it plays a part with our conditioning. We've got to keep getting after it.”