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Mad Ants
vs. Santa Cruz
Game 1: 7:30 p.m. today in Fort Wayne
Game 2: 10 p.m. Saturday in Santa Cruz
Game 3, if necessary: 9 p.m. Sunday in Santa Cruz
TV: CBS Sports Network
Tickets: $20, $12, $10, $5

Mr. Mad Ant finally in playoffs

Howard has waited 6 seasons to play 1st postseason game

– Moments before he walked onto the practice court, Mad Ants guard Ron Howard wrapped his injured right wrist with a black brace and strapped it down with Velcro.

There is still some discomfort, the 30-year-old veteran guard says. “But no one is 100 percent right now. I’m going to give them whatever I have.”

What Ron Howard has – what his teammates also own – is an extension to the NBA D-League season that no Mad Ants teams before have had. When the Ants (27-23) meet Santa Cruz (32-18) at 7:30 p.m. today at Memorial Coliseum, it will be their first playoff game in the team’s six-year history. Game 2 of the best-of-three series will move to Santa Cruz, Calif., on Saturday night. If a third game is necessary, it will be at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Good wrist or bad, Howard’s nights of sitting out are over. He’s waited too long and endured too much losing to watch from the sideline.

For all or part of the team’s six seasons, Howard has had a roster spot, earning him the honorary title of “Mr. Mad Ant.” Of the 300 Mad Ants games, he has played in 198 of them – more than any other player. Seventy-five times, his teams won; 123 times, they didn’t.

“It feels good to be winning,” said Howard, who is second on the team with a 19.1 scoring average. “It feels good to have teammates do whatever it takes to win, and win the right way. It feels good to have veteran guys whom I can look upon for direction in areas. It feels good to have that balance – to have young guys that we can help along the way.”

Howard, who came to the Ants in the fall of 2007 as a 6-foot-5 open tryout player from Valparaiso, fractured his wrist during a fall against Maine on March 21. Without him, the Ants went 5-2.

Earlier in the season, the team won 2 of 6 games without Howard, who had a knee injury.

“All I know is he’ll give us everything he has; we just don’t know what he’ll have,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “Obviously, the longer we go in the playoffs, the better he’ll get.

“Whatever we get from Ron is icing on the cake, at this point.”

It has been the sitting and watching and waiting the final weeks of the season that has tested Howard’s patience.

Without him, the Ants emerged from a six-team pack to finish with the No. 5 seed in the D-League playoffs.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do career-wise,” Howard said. “I felt bad, like I was letting the team down, the city down, the organization down.

“I was really proud to see the guys come together and win the way they did. I’m blessed that my injury wasn’t season-ending, or I needed 10 weeks after surgery to get back. Now it’s my job to get back to their level.”