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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 23, 2017 5:50 pm

Why the Mad Ants' tryout is cool

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Make sure you pick up a copy of The Journal Gazette on Sunday to check out my column on the Mad Ants’ open tryout today. It had a record 125 players. What I find interesting is that players actually have a shot at making the team.

I’ve covered tryouts in other sports, at various levels, and they often feel like a mere publicity stunt or a cash grab, since you have to pay registration fees. I’ve also had frustrating tryouts myself. In college, I outscored most of the varsity team and every tryout player, but didn’t make the golf roster because it had been predetermined.

But in the NBA Gatorade League, they take their open tryouts seriously. Timothy Ohlbrecht, Dennis Horner and Dwight Buycks are just a few recent players to make it from open tryouts all the way to the NBA. Some of the Mad Ants’ all-time greats, such as Ron Howard, Will Frisby and Ramon Harris, were also found at tryouts.

It just seems that there are more great basketball players who have been overlooked than in other sports. I think it’s because you don’t need a lot of equipment or seasoning necessarily to be great, and also because this country isn’t as oversaturated with minor-league teams as with baseball or hockey.

“We’re one of the few leagues that offers the opportunity to come straight to training camp and not just this mythical idea of trying out for a team and then, ‘We’ll call you,’” Mad Ants general manager Brian Levy said. “Every year, we bring in guys and there’s already an element of (believing) this could happen and you could make the team if you play well.

“There are so many different players who get overlooked for a variety of reasons (like) they don’t have the right size for the position; they don’t shoot the ball well enough; they didn’t figure it out until later; they didn’t realize that just because they were the leading scorer on a (Division II) team, that doesn’t mean I’m going to get professional opportunities and I need to show I can defend and rebound and do all these other things. Everyone matures at a different rate … and some guys have fallen off everybody’s radar.”

Just last season, the Mad Ants took two players from their tryout into training camp and E. Victor Nickerson ended up making the team.

It also helps that the Mad Ants only know the nucleus of their roster and that could change depending on who the Indiana Pacers keep in the NBA.

Speaking of the Pacers, they have brought in yet another player from last season’s Mad Ants team – Jarrod Uthoff, who finished the season with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. The Pacers also have Alex Poythress, who went from Fort Wayne to the Philadelphia 76ers last season, and Trey McKinney Jones, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.