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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The Mad Ants' Nick Zeisloft works with Nicolas Dyke, 12, on his shooting form at Monday's Mad Ants Shooting Camp at Turnstone's Plassman Athletic Center. Zeisloft worked with 28 kids.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017 1:00 am

Zeisloft, Mad Ants make impression

Column by Justin A. Cohn

Seated on the baseline, the kids clapped after each shot Nick Zeisloft sent through the basket.

“If you all clap after every shot, you're going to get tired. I'm going to be making a lot of these,” Zeisloft said.

So at Zeisloft's request, the applause ceased and was replaced by concentration on the shooting techniques the 24-year-old Mad Ants player was breaking down at Turnstone's Plassman Athletic Center.

Seeing a Mad Ant working with young basketball players in the community isn't a new thing – former player Ron Howard has been involved for many years in the summertime – but there is a clear, concerted effort being made by the team to grow the sport, the Mad Ants brand and engage kids through the team's Basketball Academy.

On Monday, 28 kids began their three-day, $75 course with Zeisloft and it was good to see the enthusiasm of teacher and students.

“Particularly with this camp, shooting is the focus,” said Zeisloft, who played in 47 of 50 games as a rookie this season, averaging 7.4 points and 14.9 minutes per game. “We'll definitely be detailed and keep it simple for the kids, try to send them home with some things to work on. It'll be things I wish I'd have done when I was their age or a little bit earlier in my life.”

Though Zeisloft, a former Indiana University player, is “trying to become the best shooter in the world,” something he's working on this offseason, he's nowhere near the biggest star on the Mad Ants' roster. But you couldn't tell that by watching the kids Monday, their eyes wide because they got plenty of one-on-one time with a pro basketball player.

There were a handful of left-handed kids out there, and Zeisloft was just as adept at showing the footwork and shooting form they need. He mimicked some LeBron James and Stephen Curry shots – ones that went in but didn't necessarily have the form a coach would hope for – and the kids drank in the message: Great players can make those shots, but you've got to have the fundamentals, like shoulders squared and hands in the proper position, down first.

The kids will remember these days. Pro teams, whatever the sport, should remember how much they can influence young players by setting up these types of camps.

“I've trained high school kids and younger before,” Zeisloft said. “Small camps, maybe nothing as big as this, but I've worked at big ones at Indiana as well. We had some pretty large camps we worked at there.”

The Mad Ants will have another camp starting Monday at the YMCA of Steuben County and the Howard-led “Back 2 School” camp starts July 24 at the ASH Centre, with more information at www.fortwayne.dleague.nba.com/basketballacademy.

Assisted by corporate manager Kevin Bloom, Zeisloft was the perfect player to lead the shooting camp, thanks to his ties to IU, his outgoingness and his track record of hitting long-range shots, even if he had to come in cold, off the bench to do so.

“Coming off the bench, you've got to be ready to go in every aspect and be able to knock it down right away,” he said.

The Mad Ants, who were 30-20 and lost to Maine in the first round of the playoffs, had a roster this season heavy on rookies. We don't yet know if any of the players will be back this fall, but Zeisloft was still eager to talk up both the Mad Ants and the Hoosiers, who recently fired Tom Crean as coach.

“Coach Crean is almost like a second father to me. He was a father figure to me down at IU. So it was hard to see him go, but I know he's going to get right back up and succeed somewhere else,” Zeisloft said. “Adversity doesn't get him or his family down at all. It's a tough-knit family, a tough-knit group, with a tough-knit man at the head of it. So he's going to be fine. I met (new) Coach (Archie) Miller down at IU already. He's a great guy, from when I've met with him and from what my former teammates have told me as well. IU was in great hands and is going to be in great hands as well, too.”

And the kids out at Turnstone? They seemed to be in great hands, too.

Justin A. Cohn is a senior writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1997. He can be reached by email jcohn@jg.net; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.