The G League hasn’t just been a proving ground for players; it’s also been a place for coaches to show they can develop and flourish in professional basketball.
Steve Gansey has been one of its success stories, ascending from unknown intern to championship-winning assistant coach to head coach who twice made the playoffs and had the Mad Ants on the cusp of one of the best comebacks in league history before last season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But it now appears Gansey’s time with the organization is over.
Gansey confirmed that the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, who own and operate the Mad Ants, have told him he can seek employment elsewhere. His contract expired Oct. 31.
“It just stinks that we couldn’t finish out (last season). We had seven games left, and we were one game back of the playoffs, and I really wanted to be the first team to make the playoffs after starting 0-6,” Gansey said Saturday. “We were getting into a really good groove and it really stinks that we couldn’t finish the season. Most importantly, I couldn’t say goodbye to a lot of the Mad Ants fans, people I talked to in those (pre-game) ‘Chalk Talks,’ people who have become really good friends of mine.
“I mean, they were there when I was an intern and really became kind of family to me. So, just not (getting to say) goodbye to them kind of hurts.”
It’s unclear if Gansey’s departure represents a shift in the Pacers’ philosophy – they recently hired Nate Bjorkgren, a former G League coach, as their head coach – or if they’re simply not thinking there will be a G League season. There has been almost no indication from the NBA on when, or if, the G League could play, though mid-January would be the earliest possibility.
Gansey, 35, said he’s in the dark on the exact reasons the Pacers have cut him loose.
“I haven’t heard a reason," he said. “You know, the Pacers are busy right now with a new (NBA) coach, the (recent) draft, free agency, starting training camp and all that. But I haven’t gotten any notice, just the discussion of ‘it’s unlikely I’ll be coming back.’”
Mad Ants general manager Brian Levy declined to comment. A request for further clarification on the Mad Ants' coaching situation has been made by The Journal Gazette.
Gansey, who is living in the Cleveland area, plans to investigate opportunities with other NBA and G League teams, or perhaps with overseas or college teams.
He hasn’t totally ruled out a return to the Mad Ants – he said it’s about 2% his phone rings from the Pacers – but it would take a certain set of circumstances that likely includes the G League starting soon and the Mad Ants needing a coach in short order.
Gansey had a 123-120 regular-season record with Fort Wayne, and a 1-3 playoff mark, not including 35 games as an interim coach in 2011-12. Among the players he helped ascend to the NBA were Walt Lemon Jr., Jordan Loyd and Jarrod Uthoff, and he worked closely with several Pacers draft picks such as Edmond Sumner, Alize Johnson and T.J. Leaf. He also has coached the Pacers’ Summer League teams.
The Pacers bought the Mad Ants in 2015 and Gansey, who had spent the previous season as an associate head coach with the G League’s Canton Charge, was brought back to Fort Wayne, where he started in 2009, to serve as head coach.
His contract to coach the Mad Ants expired July 1 but the Pacers renewed it, through Oct. 31, to give them time to decide how they were going to move forward through the pandemic.
“Being able to get my foot in the door there in Fort Wayne (as an intern), learning from great coaches like Joey Meyer, Duane Ticknor and Connor Henry, it was great and I've had some great assistants. You know, I've had a lot of these guys move up to the NBA, whether that was in the video room or behind the bench of an NBA team, and I’m very proud of that,” Gansey said.
“I thought our organization, Brian Levy, (director of basketball operations) Chris Taylor and myself, always put together great staffs and guys that really worked their butts off and really tried to give all their best for Fort Wayne. So I'm forever grateful for the Pacers organization and just the city of Fort Wayne and all the fans. It just stinks if it ends like this.”
Gansey also extended thanks to several Pacers executives with whom he’d worked, including owner Herb Simon; his son, Steve; president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard; former president Larry Bird; former senior vice-president of basketball operations Peter Dinwiddie; and former head coaches coaches Frank Vogel and Nate McMillan.
“The entire organization has just been unbelievable toward me,” Gansey said.