The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 30, 2020 3:30 pm

Despite silence, Mad Ants appear bubble-bound

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The NBA season has started and the G League season appears less than six weeks away, yet the NBA’s Indiana Pacers continue to be silent on their plans for the Mad Ants.

A source confirmed that the Mad Ants have opted in for a proposed G League season, which would take place in one location, perhaps Orlando, Florida. But the Pacers, who own and operate the Mad Ants, continue to decline comment on their plans – including who would coach the Mad Ants.

Since the Mad Ants last played March 11, there has been almost no information provided to the media, despite repeated requests from The Journal Gazette to the Mad Ants, Pacers and NBA for updates.

That includes no explanation on why the Pacers decided not to retain Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey after his contract expired Oct. 31, despite giving him high praise throughout his tenure. Gansey had a 123-120 regular-season record and a 1-3 playoff mark over five seasons with Fort Wayne, not including 35 games as an interim coach in 2011-12.

It remains unclear if letting Gansey go represented dissatisfaction with his performance; a new direction under recently hired Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren, who is a former G League coach; or just uncertainty there would be a G League season.

Now it appears there will be one.

The Athletic reported Monday that the league is aiming for a season on the Disney campus in Orlando with 12-to-15 game schedules and that 18 teams, including the Mad Ants, have opted in. The teams that have opted out, per The Athletic, are: College Park, Maine, Windy City, Texas, Grand Rapids, South Bay, Sioux Falls, Wisconsin, Northern Arizona, Stockton and Capital City.

A G League draft would be Jan. 11, per the report.

Memorial Coliseum general manager Randy Brown confirmed the Mad Ants no longer have any dates reserved for this season.

The Mad Ants’ lease with the Coliseum expires next summer and questions about the long-term future of the franchise playing in Fort Wayne are sure to intensify. The Pacers-Mad Ants model is becoming less common in the G League, where most teams play in smaller facilities that don’t rely on much fan attendance and are closer to their NBA teams’ home courts.

The Mad Ants' average announced attendance last season was 2,416, including a game in Las Vegas at the Winter Showcase. The Mad Ants ranked 10th among the G League's 28 teams in average attendance, just above the league average of 2,245.

However, a source told The Journal Gazette that as recently as last week, Mad Ants staff was holding planning sessions for a 2021-22 season in Fort Wayne. And Brown said he’s “had no indication” that the Mad Ants are thinking of anything other than playing in Fort Wayne next season.

As for this season, there’s little clue as to who would be on a Mad Ants’ roster in a bubble.

The Mad Ants retain the rights to almost all the players from last season, including Fort Wayne-native D.J. McCall, though some players like Walt Lemon Jr. have been playing overseas. The only two players that would seem assured of being on the roster would be the Pacers on two-way contracts: Brian Bowen II and Cassius Stanley.

Bowen averaged 16.2 points and 7.8 rebounds over 29 games last season with Fort Wayne, while also playing six games with the Pacers. Stanley was a second-round NBA draft pick this year out of Duke.

One of the factors the NBA has had to weigh in going forward with a G League season is how it will impact the new G League Ignite, which is geared toward grooming elite NBA prospects as an alternative to college. That team, which includes ballyhooed prospects Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd, will be coached by Brian Shaw and includes Reggie Hearn, a native of Fort Wayne who has played for the Detroit Pistons. 

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