The Journal Gazette
Thursday, April 02, 2020 1:00 am

Ants' coach using time wisely

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Steve Gansey's contract to coach the Mad Ants expires July 1. His lease on a Fort Wayne apartment expires that month, too.

Like the Mad Ants' players, Gansey is in a difficult-to-navigate state because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This isn't to imply the Indiana Pacers, who own and operate the Mad Ants, won't want to bring back Gansey after this season. He has a 123-120 career record, and a 1-3 playoff mark, with Fort Wayne.

It's just that a season in limbo has G League personnel unsure of several things, including: If the season will continue or be canceled; when a decision will be made; and how this will affect job prospects for next season.

“There are just a lot of questions and you just don't know,” Gansey said. “The thing that hurts me the most is that the fans, the people that I became friends with and have really good relationships with, I didn't get to really talk to those people the last game or anything and give them an update or anything. That's the tough part because who knows? That might be the last time I see them in that regard. I hope not, but we'll just see what happens.”

The Mad Ants were 21-22 when the season was halted March 12, hours after they won 113-103 at Grand Rapids, Michigan, for their third straight victory. They had seven games left in the regular season, including two at Memorial Coliseum, as they tried to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

They were trying to become the first G League team to lose its first six games and still make the postseason. That didn't seem likely until last month; the Mad Ants were one game back of the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when play was suspended.

“I liked the direction that we were going into,” said Gansey, in his fifth season as the Mad Ants' head coach, not including 35 games as interim coach in 2011-12.

“We had a couple back-to-backs the rest of our schedule, but I liked the way that we were playing. Guys were jelling and buying in. They had the attitude of just, 'Hey, let's do what it takes to win. Put our egos aside, be unselfish, and just sacrifice for what's best for the team.' It was great.”

Normally, when the Mad Ants' season is over, Gansey moves to Indianapolis and assists the Pacers' coaching staff during the playoffs. With the NBA season on hold, too, Gansey has used the down time to look at film, work on practice plans, study and develop plays, and hone his coaching communication tactics.

“I'm trying to stay as busy as possible,” said Gansey, 34. “There are a lot of things that you want to get to, that you write down, throughout the season that you want to maybe check out when you have down time. ... Now I actually have the time to look at certain things, like zones and matchup zones, things we've seen this year and played against or implemented in our scheme, both offensively and defensively.”

Like most sports fans, he's been watching vintage games at home. Among them were the Mad Ants' 2014 championship-winning game, during which he was Conner Henry's assistant coach. There was a text chain, analyzing the game, that included Henry and former Mad Ants President Jeff Potter.

“Before you know it, there are five of us watching the game,” Gansey said. “I was like, 'Man, I have a lot of observations right now as I watch this. Why didn't I put Tony Mitchell in earlier? What are the plays we were running?' Just some random things.”

He also queued up West Virginia games from when his brother, Mike, was a star Mountaineers player from 2004 to 2006.

“I always enjoyed those, ... but the last time I saw them were 10 years ago. Now that I've been coaching for 10 years, you kind of look at it in a different perspective,” Gansey said. “So I was calling my brother and asking, 'Hey, what'd you guys call this one play?' He's like, 'Shoot, I don't remember.'”

This season's Mad Ants had plenty of highlights to mull, too, including the comeback from 35 points down to beat Canton, which set a G League record.

Walt Lemon Jr. led the Mad Ants with an average of 20.3 points, 6.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds over 39 games. A Pacers prospect, Alize Johnson, who played 19 G League games, averaged 20.1 points and 12.8 rebounds. Brian Bowen II, also a Pacers player, averaged 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds over 29 games with Fort Wayne.

The Mad Ants' goal heading into the season was to make the playoffs. It was – and is – still a possibility.

“The season always has different challenges and different situations that happen,” Gansey said. “You're trying to get a group of really good basketball players from an individual standpoint to play all together and just try to figure it out.”

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