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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Veteran Trey McKinney Jones will be asked to be more than a role player as the Mad Ants open their season Saturday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016 10:03 pm

Mad Ants relying on fan favorite

Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette

Trey McKinney Jones was an integral part of the Mad Ants’ runs to the 2014 D-League championship and the 2015 finals. As a rookie out of Miami, he started 60 of 63 games and averaged 14.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals, showing a steadiness offensively and a lockdown mentality defensively.

After a year playing overseas – for Egis Kormen in Hungary and Maccabi Kiryat Gat in Israel – McKinney Jones is back with Fort Wayne.

But much has changed.

McKinney Jones’ teammates from his first stint are gone from the Mad Ants, who were a veteran-laden squad then and are now filled with young NBA prospects. Steve Gansey, who was Conner Henry’s assistant in McKinney Jones’ first D-League season, is now the head coach. And the Mad Ants are now owned and operated by the Indiana Pacers and hoping to erase the memories of a 20-30 season that ended without a playoff berth, something that hadn’t happened since 2012.

What’s expected of McKinney Jones has changed, too. He’s now a veteran, one who has to be much more than a role player.

"I’m expecting a lot from Trey this year," Gansey said. "The one thing Trey needs to do is develop that killer instinct. He needs to go out and score the ball. That’s what I expect him to do this upcoming year, as well as the other intangible things he’s been doing overseas and what he did with Conner when I was (an assistant) in Canton (in 2014-15)."

McKinney Jones was a favorite among Memorial Coliseum fans, who appreciated his hustle, and he said his style of play is mostly the same.

"I’m pretty much the same guy," said McKinney Jones, 26, who was in 2013 training camp with the Milwaukee Bucks and has played NBA Summer League with San Antonio, Miami and Atlanta.

"Obviously, I’m a little more experienced now. That’s the one thing I’m bringing to the table. I’m still going to give it my all when I’m out there – hustle, play defense, get up and down, shoot the ball, be aggressive – but I’m still the same guy, just more experienced."

The Mad Ants have four players assigned by the Pacers – former Indiana University player Nick Zeisloft, Julyan Stone, Alex Poythress and Ben Bentil – and back from last season are Stephan Hicks and Anthony Walker.

Other players to watch include former IU player Christian Watford, Adam Woodbury and Chris Fowler.

But they will need a take-charge shooting guard and that could be McKinney Jones, who last season averaged 15.7 points and 30.6 minutes in 29 Hungarian games and 8.6 points and 20.3 minutes in seven Israeli games.

Playing internationally, where teams often can carry only a few American players, put him in the position of being the go-to guy.

"That’s what came with the experience. Going overseas, you’re kind of forced to be aggressive. That’s probably the biggest thing that I took from being overseas over the past year, learning how to be aggressive. You’ve got to have that killer instinct," said McKinney Jones, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds.

Playing overseas had its positives and negatives, McKinney Jones said.

"The money is the good part of it, compared to this. The bad is just being away from family and being in a foreign environment for so long.

"But I wanted to give it one more shot (to get noticed by an NBA team) while I’m still young," McKinney Jones said.

D-League players make up to $25,000 while contracts in Europe can be for up to $100,000.

But playing in Europe doesn’t give players the exposure to NBA teams they can get in the D-League, where a good couple of games can land a player a 10-day contract in the NBA.

With Pacers executives – and other teams – watching the Mad Ants, this could be McKinney Jones’ best chance to get noticed.

"Until they up the salary a little bit more (in the D-League), I’m going to have to keep going overseas. But I wanted to give this one more shot," he said.

jcohn@jg.net