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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 1:00 am

Mad Ants counting more on veterans

Rookies dominated roster at times since Pacers took over

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Coming Friday

A comprehensive preview of the Mad Ants' 11th season, including a profile of Walter Lemon Jr., player capsules, keys to success for the G League season and a schedule, will run in The Journal Gazette sports section Friday.

Whereas the Mad Ants' last two seasons were filled with up-and-coming rookies such as Alex Poythress, Stephan Hicks, Jarrod Uthoff and Jordan Loyd, the team is heading into its season opener Saturday against the Long Island Nets with more of a veteran feel to it.

“We're not going to have as many rookies as we did last year, when at one point we had seven or eight out of 12 guys being rookies,” general manager Brian Levy said Monday, the eighth day of training camp.

“This year, we'll probably be closer to three or four and that will be good for us, to have more of a veteran presence.”

The Mad Ants are entering their third season of being owned and operated by the NBA's Indiana Pacers and, they believe, the fruits of the plan they orchestrated in 2015 will really start to show in the opener at Uniondale, New York, and the home opener Nov. 7 at Memorial Coliseum against Greensboro.

“We wanted to build this thing in a way that fit our image,” Levy said. “Fort Wayne had always been a team that relied on veterans for a number of years. We had to bring in some young blood so we had guys who had an opportunity to be back a number of seasons. I think we're reaping the benefit of those first two years of investing time in (players such as) Walter Lemon (Jr.) and Stephan Hicks and Adam Woodbury, these guys who are back for their second or third seasons with us.”

The Mad Ants, who are 50-50 under Pacers ownership with a first-round loss to Maine in last season's playoffs, made their first cuts of training camp Monday by releasing J.D. Tisdale Jr. and Jamaal Samuel. Tisdale had been their third-round pick in the G League Draft on Oct. 21.

The Mad Ants currently have 13 players, not including the players on two-way contracts and currently with the Pacers – Poythress and Edmond Sumner, who is recovering from knee and shoulder surgery. There will likely be two more cuts before Thursday's 5 p.m. roster deadline.

Coach Steve Gansey hasn't been afraid to play rookies, and, last season, Poythress, Uthoff and Ben Bentil were first-year players who got NBA contracts.

This season, the Mad Ants' rookies include Ben Moore, Tra-Deon Hollins, Je'Lon Hornbreak and potentially Sumner, and they're part of a lineup that looks fast and athletic, albeit a bit undersized.

Asked if he thinks rookies will again play a big role, Gansey said: “Absolutely.”

But they won't have to with a nucleus that includes Lemon, Uthoff, Hicks, DeQuan Jones and C.J. Fair, who began his professional career with the Mad Ants from 2014 to 2016. Trey McKinney Jones, E. Victor Nickerson and Woodbury are back with Fort Wayne from last season, and new additions include Deonte Burton and Steve Weingarten.

“We have a couple of young guys on our team right now, (such as) Ben Moore who has great size at 6-8 or 6-9 and had a really good training camp with the Pacers,” Gansey said. “He's had a really good training camp here and we've added some of these other young players, and if they're doing what they're supposed to be doing and they're playing hard, then they're going to play minutes in the game.”