The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 27, 2021 1:00 am

Guarded optimism: Options aplenty in Mad Ants' backcourt

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The many guards at Mad Ants training camp – a whopping 11 of them – know they must hustle relentlessly if they want a spot for the team's 15th G League season.

“It's going to show you that you have to give your all at all times, understanding that there is no time to take a play off and there's no time to coast. You're looking to your left, and you're looking to your right, and there are guards everywhere,” 6-foot-3 guard Gabe York, one of 17 players in camp at the Ascension St. Vincent Center in Indianapolis, said via videocall Tuesday.

“It's a guard-heavy league, I feel like, and we don't have a lot of bigs. We've only got three of them (Jabari Craig, Bennie Boatwright and Derek Culver) ... so if you're not about competition, you shouldn't be here. For me, it just brings out the best in me. I've always been that high-competitor type of guy.”

Ten players can make the team, plus those on two-way NBA contracts, and the Mad Ants have Indiana Pacers guards DeJon Jarreau and Duane Washington Jr. There's not much time to make roster decisions, as the Mad Ants open Nov. 6 against the Windy City Bulls at Memorial Coliseum, where they will play 15 games with another nine “home” games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

There will be a scrimmage Saturday in Detroit against the Motor City Cruise to help coach Tom Hankins and recently promoted general manager Chris Taylor decide the roster for the G League's newfangled format.

Leading up to the Winter Showcase, expected to be in Las Vegas in December, the Mad Ants will attempt to qualify for a new Showcase Cup tournament by winning a pod – that includes Wisconsin, Windy City, Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Iowa, Sioux Falls and Motor City – or be among the top four teams that don't. Beginning with a game Dec. 27 against College Park in Indianapolis, the Mad Ants will revert to a 0-0 record for a more conventional 36-game regular season.

Last season, Hankins' first as coach, the Mad Ants were 6-9 in Orlando, Florida, and missed the playoffs. Their biggest success story was Oshae Brissett, now with the Pacers.

“It's exactly what I told (Brissett) yesterday when I ran into him: 'You're just fun to watch,'” Hankins said. “It's just enjoyable when you know somebody – and he was already a really good player before he came to the Mad Ants – and seeing his confidence grow last year was the most fun thing during the bubble.”

It'll take confidence to make this season's squad as a guard; the Mad Ants have eight players smaller than 6-5, including former North Side/Bethel player Trevion Crews.

“We are guard-heavy. Bigs are hard to find,” Hankins said. “Our situation, Daxter Miles (Jr.) is the only returning player from last year's team. A lot of times you have rostered players from the previous season or two seasons, but (almost) all the guys we had last year have signed in other leagues, Europe or other parts of the world, and we made a couple trades, so picking up big guys was hard to do.

“But also, the G League a lot of times turns into small ball. We have a guy like Terry Taylor, who's from Austin Peay, and he's a great offensive rebounder who's probably 6-6, and he'll end up playing some small-ball (center) probably quite a bit for us. Which will be fine. I think one thing we do have is guys with versatility who can play multiple positions, which is what basketball is turning into – not pigeonholing guys into one position.”

Note: The Mad Ants added 6-8 Will Vorhees, a native of Lima, Ohio, a third-round pick in Saturday's draft.

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