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The Journal Gazette

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  • Associated Press Kris Wilkes, left, and Brian Bowen participate in the second day of the NBA draft combine Friday in Chicago. One or both could end up in the G League.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019 1:00 am

NBA combine important to Mad Ants, too

Team's coach, GM sit in on interviews Pacers conduct

DYLAN SINN and JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

CHICAGO – It may be the NBA draft combine, but its impact will certainly be felt in the G League next season, when some of these players are either assigned to the minor league by NBA teams or find their way there through the G League draft or free agency.

Mad Ants general manager Brian Levy and coach Steve Gansey were both on hand at Quest Multisport, scouting for their team and the parent Indiana Pacers.

“The staff with the Pacers is amazing. They let me voice my opinion if I see something, so if I do see something then they're more than happy to hear what my thoughts are,” said Levy, who last season had an impressive rookie draft pick, Alize Johnson, assigned from the Pacers.

One of the Mad Ants' best players was Davon Reed, a second-year player who had spent his rookie season with the Phoenix Suns before he was picked up by the Pacers. Gansey remembers sitting in on Reed's 2017 pre-draft interviews with the Pacers, who had been clearly impressed, and Levy said such interviews this year could be integral in how the Pacers and Mad Ants proceed.

“We want (the players) to say, in their own words, their own story. Everyone has their own, unique path and we want to hear what it is,” Levy said, stressing there is only so much that can be learned from a 15- or 20-minute interview. “We do all sorts of interviews and background (during the) season, so this gives us a chance to follow up on inconsistencies or issues or something that may have happened in their college careers. We can actually hear them talk to us and how they respond.

“There's their body language. We have a sports psychologist in there, too, and we're identifying if we think that guy is being truthful or holding back some things. It's not interrogation by any means, but we want to see if they're comfortable ... and just get a general feel.”

Being at the combine also helps Levy and Gansey get a better idea of players' physical makeups and capabilities.

“The measurements are great because each college kind of does their own thing,” Levy said. “Some measure with shoes, some without. There might be a little bias with your own coaches or your own trainers, and there's the time of the clock. Just to get a sense of what the wingspan and the hand size is in a consistent environment, that's great to see. And we're just kind of looking to see who's poised, who's playing the right way, who's being selfish or not.”

Since the Pacers bought the Mad Ants in 2015, Levy and Gansey have found promising young talent, such as Walt Lemon Jr. and Jordan Loyd, and helped to groom Pacers prospects Edmond Sumner and Ben Moore.

Last season, Fort Wayne was made up of primarily first- and second-year players, inconsistent and missed the playoffs with a 23-27 record. Levy said it's too soon to know if this season's Mad Ants will be equally young, and focused on development, or if they'll chase a more veteran nucleus.

“Our job is really whatever the Pacers want it to be that season; our goals are always changing. Some years, we'll just have a more veteran team. Some years, it's not going to be like that,” Levy said. “We had to rebuild last season. We had guys we really liked over the years – the Julyan Stones and Trey McKinney Joneses and DeQuan Jones – but some of those guys had decided to go overseas and we knew we'd be a younger team.”

The G League now has $125,000 of select contracts for players coming out of high school who don't want to play in college. There isn't yet a player who looks eligible. Levy said he would take marching orders from the Pacers for a select-contracted player to be truly evaluated by the Mad Ants, who cannot scout high school events.

“We're just going to try to do things the right way the best we can, but I don't see us trying to reinvent the game this season,” Levy said.