The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 26, 2020 1:00 am

Mad Ants left with what-ifs after early end

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Ben Moore is home with his parents in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and he doesn't have a hoop on the premises. To stay in basketball shape, he's gone to a nearby playground to shoot a bit, and taken the dog on runs, but mostly he's been doing more push-ups, split squats and core work than he'd care to think about.

That's frustrating, but not as maddening as thinking about what the Mad Ants could have done before COVID-19 put the season in peril.

“The most obvious thing is I'm pretty disappointed,” said Moore, 24. “We had seven games left and were making a good playoff push. We had a good chance of making the playoffs and we would have made history doing that, so I'm pretty disappointed that the season was put on hold.”

The Mad Ants were trying to become the first G League team to lose its first six games and make the postseason.

“With the season suspended, it's been crazy,” the Mad Ants' Stephan Hicks said. “I never knew anything could happen like this. It ended in a bad situation for us. We were clicking. We'd won three in a row and were trying to make that playoff push. Having it end like that is kind of tough on us.”

Hicks, 27, is with his family in Woodland Hills, California, where the only shots he had been taking were at a local park before the government's stay-at-home order to limit spread of the coronavirus.

“I picked up a jump rope from Target the other day,” Hicks said, “and I'm going to do some jump ropes, some stuff inside like ab work, and just do conditioning-wise things like running around the area where I live. That's really all I can do right now.”

The Mad Ants (21-22) got off to the worst start in franchise history – they were 1-8 and 3-10 – before a five-game winning streak brought them back to relevance. They still seemed a long shot to make the playoffs until they won their last three games.

They were one game back of the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when the NBA put the G League's season on hold about 12:30 a.m. March 12, hours after the Mad Ants won 113-103 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The NBA is still holding out hope it will complete this season and the G League is under the same directives.

“The mentality is still the same, still staying prepared,” Moore said. “Whenever they want to resume the season, if they resume the season, it's about staying prepared and being ready to play those last seven games if possible.”

Unlike many winter sports leagues that have canceled play – such as the ECHL in which the Komets play hockey – G League players are still getting paid.

“Without question, we're very, very fortunate they're still sending our paychecks,” Moore said.

Added Hicks: “We're blessed and thankful they're still paying us.”

But anxiety in the U.S. basketball community is still high, especially when you consider all the leagues around the world in which American players were competing.

“I know a lot of guys overseas and I'd say I've been talking to them more than anybody else because everybody has a different situation and there's a lot going on with different leagues,” Moore said. “So I've been talking to those guys, seeing if they're in good spirits or not, and hoping they can get home as soon as possible.”

The Mad Ants had only two remaining regular-season games to be played at Memorial Coliseum when their season was halted

“We definitely thought we'd caught our rhythm,” Moore said. “Our chemistry was going together well. We a couple good wins toward the end there. We were hoping to keep it rolling.”

The Mad Ants, who had missed the 2019 postseason, were optimistic they could make some noise in the 2020 playoffs.

“It's tough, man, but we can't really control what happened,” Hicks said. “The last few games that we played, I thought we were playing really well, and I thought we were going to make a push to that final spot in the playoffs.”

Hicks, in his fifth Mad Ants season, was averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds and had become the team's all-time leader in rebounds (1,229), offensive rebounds (417) and made 3-pointers (235).

Moore, who has spent time with Fort Wayne during three seasons, was averaging 13.9 points and 9.2 rebounds.

The abrupt halt to play was jarring for both.

“Our vibe was, we were more enthused,” Moore said. “The veterans were really excited because we knew what was going on, we knew we were making this playoff push, and to be honest, everyone was really excited and (the last game) was one of the more high-energy games of the season.”

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