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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Julyan Stone, of the Mad Ants, drives the ball down the court in the first half of Tuesday's game against Canton Charge at the Memorial Coliseum.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants' Julyan Stone, left, tries to get the ball around Raptors 905's Brady Heslip during the Mad Ants vs. Raptors 905 basketball game at the Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants' Julyan Stone, right, jumps up and tries to shoot the ball as Raptors 905's Goodluck Okonoboh tries to stop him during the Mad Ants vs. Raptors 905 basketball game at the Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday. GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Mad Ants' Julyan Stone, right, looks for a teammate to pass the ball to as Erie Bayhawks' Gabe York tries to block his pass during the Mad Ants vs. Erie Bayhawks morning game at the Memorial Coliseum on Thursday. GALLERY

Monday, February 27, 2017 11:29 am

Huge blow: Mad Ants lose Stone

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Julyan Stone, who had been the unquestioned leader of the Mad Ants, has left the team to play for Reyer Venezia in Venice, Italy.

While the Mad Ants have already brought back Chris Fowler, who had been in training camp with the team, general manager Brian Levy is working the phones looking for a replacement as his team (20-15) chases a playoff berth.

“We’re evaluating our options,” Levy said. “The trade deadline is coming up on March 2nd. We’re talking to some teams to see what the point guard market is. Over the next few days, we’re going to see what we can do to improve the roster.”

The Mad Ants lost forward Ben Bentil to the Dallas Mavericks late Friday – he was the first Fort Wayne player signed by an NBA team this season – but they were able to snap their season-worst five-game losing streak with a 110-108 victory at Erie, Pennsylvania, on Saturday.

The good news is that Alex Poythress, who suffered a nose injury last week, is expected to be back on the court Wednesday at Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“That’s the plan right now,” Levy said. “He’s back at practice and the hope is that he’ll be back to 100 percent by Wednesday.”

Stone, 28, played 31 games and averaged 8.3 points, 8.7 assists and 6 rebounds after spending training camp with the Mad Ants’ parent club, the Indiana Pacers, who have placed Georges Niang, Rakeem Christmas and Joe Young with the Mad Ants at various points this season.

"I want to thank the entire Fort Wayne organization and Pacer family for having me,” said Stone, whose departure leaves Trey McKinney Jones and Travis Leslie as the veteran leaders on a team with six rookies.

“It's been a wonderful experience for myself and my family. You have made us feel at home. I want to thank my teammates, coach (Steve) Gansey and general manager Brian Levy for giving me every opportunity to succeed.”

Stone has 47 games of NBA experience with Denver and Toronto between 2011 and 2014, and he played in Venice in 2014-15.

It’s not uncommon for players to defect from D-League teams at this time of year, if they feel their chances of getting picked up by an NBA team have dried up, especially since money overseas is better. The Mad Ants went through a similar situation in 2014-15 when Andre Emmett, fresh off being selected the All-Star Game MVP, left the team. Fort Wayne still was able to recover and reach the playoff finals.

Stone left open the possibility that he will be back to try out for the Pacers next season and, therefore, could return to the Mad Ants.

“I will be back in Indiana training and doing all that's necessary to ensure that I am in a Pacer uniform next fall. Thank you fans,” Stone said.

Fowler, a rookie out of Central Michigan, averaged 16.4 points, 5.9 assists and 4 rebounds as a senior. In 120 career games – all as a starter – he averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds. He was first-team all-conference in 2015 and 2016 and made the Mid-American Conference's all-tournament team in 2015.

The Mad Ants are 6 1/2 games back of Raptors 905 for the Central Division lead.

jcohn@jg.net