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The Journal Gazette

  • File Walter Lemon Jr., known for his speed and dunking ability, is back with the Mad Ants after a season away. The team opens its 11th season Saturday in Uniondale, New York.

Friday, November 03, 2017 1:00 am

Mad ants preview

Lemon ready for go-to role in return to Ants

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Mad Ants

Season opener

at Long Island

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Home opener

vs. Greensboro

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Walter Lemon Jr. understands that what's going on in the head translates to the basketball court – he majored in psychology at Bradley – and believes his comfort level in Fort Wayne will help him star this season for the Mad Ants.

“It's definitely a morale boost being back here because I'm not coming in not knowing what to expect,” said Lemon, whose Mad Ants will open their 11th season Saturday against the Long Island Nets in Uniondale, New York.

“I know how the coaches are and how the staff is, that the systems they try to implement (are) like (what) the Pacers do. I'm not new to it. I'm coming in and just trying to get better every day.”

The Mad Ants' roster is filled with players who starred for them last season, including Alex Poythress, Trey McKinney Jones, Jarrod Uthoff and Stephan Hicks, as well as the returns of C.J. Fair and Lemon after a season away.

“Obviously, Walt and C.J. are very athletic and very good basketball players, so I'm very interested to see how they play this year for us,” coach Steve Gansey said.

Lemon, a guard, spent 48 games with them in 2015-16 – the first season in which the Pacers owned and operated the Mad Ants – and Lemon averaged 13.5 points, 3.4 assists, 2.6 steals, 1.4 steals and 24.7 minutes.

He gained a reputation throughout the league – now known as the G League – for being perhaps its speediest player and one of its most exciting, hence an appearance in the All-Star Game's dunk contest.

Lemon doesn't want to be known for just the highlight reel plays, though, and believes he won't have to shoulder as much of the responsibility this season with a team that could be the most talented Fort Wayne has had.

“I don't focus on one part of my game,” Lemon said. “I try to get better in every aspect. One day, it may be defending or just getting a teammate going, if he's having a bad day, helping him out as much as I can. I don't really focus on one aspect of my game, I just try to be the best Walt Lemon I can be.”

Lemon, 6-foot-3, believes he's a much different player than he was in his first stint with Fort Wayne, which was his first stop in North American professional basketball after a stint in Europe that took him to Hungary and Germany.

“I'm a way different player. I was 23 when I first came here,” said Lemon, a native of Chicago, who averaged 18 points, 3.9 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 steals as a senior at Bradley in 2013-14.

“I didn't know what to expect. I came in and was wet behind the ears. I'm 25 now, though, and I've got a little bit of experience under my belt. Most importantly, I know how to handle certain situations, how to just be a professional on and off the court. I'll be a better teammate and I'm a better person overall.”

Last season, Lemon played in Turkey for Istanbulspor and Greece for Rethymno, averaging 13.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1 steal, but the G League, the NBA's developmental circuit, might be more conducive to his fast-paced style.

“Last season was cool but, as you know, basketball overseas is different than it is in the United States as far as calls,” he said. “It's more physical over there, in my opinion, and as far as calls there are certain ones you can get away with here that you can't get away with there. It was a big adjustment for me.”

Whereas he battled with Hicks, Xavier Thames and Marcus Simmons for playing time in his first stint with Fort Wayne, Lemon will certainly be one of Gansey's go-to players in what should be a fast-paced, athletic system with NBA prospects Poythress, Uthoff, DeQuan Jones, Ben Moore, Tra-Deon Hollins and Edmond Sumner.