Throughout the first eight days of training camp, Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey said to his players repeatedly: "We want to play fast but not in a hurry."
While almost any Mad Ants player will tell you the strength of this year’s roster is its athleticism, which will allow them to run the floor and, they hope, overwhelm opponents, Fort Wayne needs to play systematically to make it work.
"Our roster is built on playing faster," said Gansey, whose team opens its 10th season Saturday in Greensboro, North Carolina. "I’ve been preaching ‘pace.’ That’s not necessarily just running around and going crazy, but understanding spots on the floor and where we want to get to because it can open up a lot of things offensively for us."
The Mad Ants began training camp with 15 players and have cut only one – Marcus Simmons – and anywhere from two to four more will go before the first game.
Only Trey McKinney Jones, Stephan Hicks and Anthony Walker have played before for the Mad Ants, who are in their second season of being owned and operated by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.
While last season the Mad Ants started off with two NBA-contracted players, Rakeem Christmas and Shayne Whittington, they don’t have any right now.
However, Nick Zeisloft, Julyan Stone, Alex Poythress and Ben Bentil had all been with the Pacers and are in Fort Wayne as affiliate players.
"We’ve got a lot of good guys, a lot of athletic guys," Hicks said. "I know we’re a little smaller than we were last year, but we’re going to play faster and that’s going to help us at the offensive and defensive ends."
The Mad Ants, whose inside game will be led by 7-foot-1 Adam Woodbury, 6-9 Bentil and 6-9 Christian Watford, play their first home game Nov. 20 at Memorial Coliseum against the defending champion Sioux Falls Skyforce.
"We’re going to be able to spread the floor a lot and be able to get up and down a little bit," said Watford, adding that the systems are closely aligned with what the Pacers are running. "We’re going to be able to defend a lot. We’re not the biggest team, but we’ll be able to run, and we’ve got a lot of athleticism."
The Mad Ants spent the early days of camp working primarily on defense, but practices and scrimmages lately have begun to implement more of the up-tempo offense Gansey wants for a team that went 20-30 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
"We’re still concentrating on that (defense) a lot, but we’re expanding into our offensive stuff now and getting up-and-down," Watford said.
Gansey conceded the lack of size means that the Mad Ants are going to have to really concentrate on their rebounding, but the athleticism of the roster will give him lots of options when putting together his rotations.
"We’ve got a lot of guys who can do most everything on the floor, and I’m looking forward to it," Watford said.