I don't know if any of these guys will make the Mad Ants' roster. But each of the 125 players on the courts Saturday at Turnstone's Plassman Athletic Center at least had a chance and that in itself is refreshing.
Open tryouts are usually frustratingly predetermined, held for publicity and to make money off registration fees and players' dreams, with no realistic shot of making the team. But the NBA Gatorade League has a proven history of taking tryouts seriously – Timothy Ohlbrecht, Dennis Horner and Dwight Buycks are recent players to advance from open tryouts to the NBA – and the Mad Ants' record is better than most.
“We'll look at everyone who signs up and we'll look to see where they've played basketball, if they've played professionally and what their stats were in college. We'll absolutely highlight some guys who might pique our interest,” Mad Ants general manager Brian Levy says. “But then they come in and there's always a couple guys who weren't on that list that surprise you a little bit. It's certainly open to everyone (to succeed).”
Just last year, the Mad Ants, who are owned and operated by the NBA's Indiana Pacers, took two players from their open tryout into training camp and E. Victor Nickerson remained most of the season.
Ron Howard, the only player to have his number retired by the Mad Ants, thought his basketball career was over before an open tryout in 2007 and he went on to become the league's all-time leading scorer. Will Frisby and Ramon Harris, who helped him to a championship, were also tryout finds.
“I know exactly how these guys feel. I'm not just telling them to 'play hard and do your thing,' because I know the stress,” says Howard, who was almost penniless yet able to impress the Mad Ants after showing up an hour late for his tryout because he didn't realize he would lose an hour driving from Chicago.
“For some of these guys, this is their last shot. It was definitely mine. If I didn't make the team, I was going to have to go get a job. For some of these guys, this is it.”
The Mad Ants know only the nucleus of their roster at this point, and even that could change based on who the Pacers keep in the NBA, so there's time to impress before the Nov. 4 season opener.
“It's very important to look good because your time out here is limited,” says Kendan Lewis, a former player at Wayne and Saint Francis, joined by other players with local ties such as Indiana Tech products Anfernee Brooks and Branden Adams.
They tried to outshine more experienced players such as Brandon Bowdry, who has played professionally in places such as Turkey and Belgium, and the Mad Ants relish perhaps making players' dreams come true.
“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,' ” Levy says.
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 email@example.com; phone, 461-8429; or fax 461-8648.