FORT WAYNE – It was a laugh that, in the waning stages of an NBA Development League season that hasn’t provided many, could be reassuring to the loyalists of the Mad Ants. And amid the levity, John Zeglis, the team’s majority owner, insisted, We are not bolting.
Not that there were rumors of the franchise pulling up stakes after the worst of five consecutive sub-.500 records. But even successful teams have been known to go without much warning. And after enduring five years of frustration and futility, the prospect of any fledgling franchise giving up the ghost is nevertheless a bogeyman lurking under the bed.
In the case of the Mad Ants, there is no merit for such a fear.
John is having a blast, said team president and general manager Jeff Potter, who is also Zeglis’ son-in-law.
Saturday’s 99-98 win over Dakota at Memorial Coliseum marked the end of the most forgettable season in the team’s history. The 14-36 record is not only the Ants’ worst ever since its 2007 debut, but it is the worst this season within the 16-team D-League. The closest to the Ants for that dubious honor is East Conference-rival Sioux Falls, at 15-34 going into Saturday night.
It’s been a disappointing year, Potter said. We came in with such high expectations for such a good team and didn’t get off to a good start.
With five players on the early-season roster who were invited to NBA training camps, the Ants appeared to have the personnel to not only end their playoff drought but make a run for the title.
Execution, however, never caught up with expectations. Oft-injured center Chris Hunter left the team after four games. Point guard Walker Russell Jr. was called up to the Detroit Pistons after 16 games. Veteran guard Ron Howard suffered a thumb injury that plagued him much of the season.
The Ants began the season 5-10, which prompted the release of Joey Meyer, who, when hired to begin the 2009-10 season, had more D-League wins than any other coach. Named Meyer’s successor was Steve Gansey, the 26-year-old assistant who never had a head coaching job in his life.
Bad went to worse. The Ants lost all 10 games in February, and, including Saturday’s win over Dakota, limped home by winning six of their last 30. But despite the losing, the Ants still had their four largest crowds of the season in March, topping out at 5,521 in a 26-point loss to Los Angeles on March 3.
We never did an investment to make dividends and yield on it; we did it to create a community event – a community service, if you will, Zeglis said of the involvement of himself and other team investors. To a person, the investors would say, Bravo; terrific success on those lines; keep it going.’
We play 24 home games, but we’re in the community 240 times. For every game we play, we’re out there 10 times doing something in the community.
While Potter recognizes the team’s triumphs off the floor, he’d like to see considerably more success on it. Which is why between now and next season’s opener, he’ll reflect on this past season to understand how the collapse came about.
Any time you’re unsuccessful, you’ve got to look and see, What am I doing wrong? What am I missing out on?’ Potter said. We’ll definitely be doing that. We’ll sit down with some people outside of this organization and see where are we right and where are we wrong, and why can’t we get the right mix.
Gansey has also had time to reflect and evaluate his 9-26 tenure. Some aspects of the job, he took head on; others, he had to learn on the fly.
The biggest thing I didn’t know was probably the preparation, Gansey said. I could see why, when I talked to Joey in the summer, he’d say, I’m writing practice plans. I’m watching tape.’ In the offseason, you’re not in the gym, and unless you’re working guys out, you’re preparing your principles. That was one thing I didn’t know. I got right into it. I had my ideas and my thoughts, but to put it down on paper and to go over it week after week, month after month, that was one thing I wasn’t prepared for. It’s all about wins and losses.
That’s 14 of one, and 36 of the other this season; 96-154 in five years.
For some reason, it hasn’t happened here, but it’ll happen, Potter said. I promise I will leave no stone unturned, and we’ll do everything we can to get this right. No one wants to have a winner in here more than me. Our fans deserve it; our ownership deserves it.