Coach Steve Gansey appreciates the togetherness between the Pacers and Mad Ants

Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey (right) is working alongside the Pacers coaching staff during the postseason.

Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey (right) is working alongside the Pacers coaching staff during the postseason.

When Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon purchased the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League, one thing team executives stressed was their desire for uniformity between the teams.

“This is a very significant day for Pacers Sports & Entertainment,” said Pacers Sports & Entertainment Vice Chairman Jim Morris last September.

One of the primary purposes of owning their own D-League team was having full control from the top down. They hired Brian Levy to be the General Manager, then Steve Gansey to be the head coach. They sent Harrison Greenberg, who learned what various Pacers departments do for the last several years while still in school, up to be the Director of Basketball Operations.

Once the Pacers took ownership of the Mad Ants, they got to work right away. On the court, when players were sent down — and Shayne Whittington and rookie Rakeem Christmas were there for the majority of the season — the style of play, play calls, and more were similar to what Frank Vogel was having his team do.

And that’s because coach Gansey was with the Pacers for training camp last fall. He sat in on every meeting, was in the film room, and was on the court for each practice.

“Over the years, I never thought very much about sending players up here,” Pacers President Larry Bird said in September. “We have occasionally but it seemed like we were really getting in their way. They’re trying to win games on a nightly basis. We send a player up here, and maybe he gets one practice in, he don’t know the offense, and obviously we wanted him to play 35 minutes a game.”

The Mad Ants went 20-30 this season, finishing at the bottom of the five-team Central Division and ninth (out of 10) in the Eastern Conference. Shortly after their season concluded, without a playoff berth in a foundational season, Gansey came to Indianapolis for the final weeks of the Pacers’ regular season and the playoffs.

“It’s been great,” Gansey said Sunday after practice as we discussed the uniformity between the Pacers and the Mad Ants.

“It’s been awesome, a great experience. Not only seeing what Frank draws up in the timeouts, but also his message to the guys. I’ve been in similar situations where other teams would make runs and I know what I would say, but to always think what would Frank say in those situations is great.”

Gansey primary on-court role is working out the young guys.

Gansey primary on-court role is working out the young guys.

Gansey continues to be included in everything. He has traveled with the team to Toronto and has a seat right behind the bench — an ideal spot hear the assistant coaches during the game and Vogel during timeouts.

“Yeah, everything,” he said with a smile. “I’m in the meetings with Frank, Nate (McMillan), Popeye (Jones), and Dan (Burke). It’s just us five. Just to listen to those guys and then them asking for my input on certain things and just seeing how they prep with each individual guy from the Raptors down to the regular season.

“I didn’t even know that I was going to be able to sit behind the bench. I didn’t know if I was going to be allowed here during the playoffs. I told them I wanted to and they were like, ‘Absolutely. You are part of the Pacers family.’ It’s been a great experience so far.”

During practices and before games, Gansey works out the young guys. Rookies Christmas and Joe Young, plus second-year guys Whittington and Glenn Robinson III.

“That’s my duty here, and then just trying to gain as much knowledge (as possible),” he said. “I’m just happy to be a fly on the wall here, I guess you could say.”

After every Mad Ants game throughout the season, Gansey would personally write a report for Vogel on the team and individual reports on the two Pacers assigned to the Mad Ants, Whittington and Christmas.

“Telling him my thoughts rather than just looking at the boxscore,” Gansey said of the reports. “Obviously Frank and all of these guys have 82 games and are extremely busy throughout the year, but I would talk to DB (assistant Dan Burke) a couple times a week to get his thoughts and anything that he may want to try but doesn’t have time for but would like to see how it is. We can video it and send it back, and I can give my feedback to it.

“We had a young team this year so it was to help those guys understand what’s going on in Fort Wayne a little bit more.”

Gansey and his staff, extending beyond the assistant coaches, were in constant communication with the Pacers basketball staff. Like on the court, they want the athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach to have the same plan and same goals as the Pacers.

“When Shayne and Rakeem were assigned and the treatments that they were getting and work in the weight room, we want everybody to be in good communication with them and have the right message to these guys, both on and off the court,” said Gansey.

[Pacers committed to keep Mad Ants in Fort Wayne]

Gansey has previously worked alongside the Pacers — during Summer League play. [Photo provided by the Mad Ants]

Gansey has previously worked alongside the Pacers — during Summer League play. [Photo provided by the Mad Ants]

In 40 games with the Mad Ants, Whittington averaged 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He shot 42.9 percent from the field and 81.6 percent from the foul line. Christmas, meanwhile, contributed 13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks in 48 games. He shot 47.3 percent from the field.

Here’s Gansey’s brief assessment: “Shayne and Rakeem played extremely hard. Christmas was an All-Star for us and him learning the pro game in his first year coming from Syracuse. Both of them played really well for us. Obviously there’s things that they’d probably like to do a little bit better and that they’ll be better for next year just for getting those minutes.”

On this practice day, Mad Ants assistant Stephen Graham, head athletic trainer Matt Campbell, and strength and conditioning coach Jason Manikowski made the two-hour drive down from Fort Wayne. Graham, you may recall, appeared in 74 games as Pacer from 2007-09.

“It’s all of us trying to learn and get on board with everything that they’re trying to do and just try to get us better,” Gansey said.

Gansey, 30, will be involved in the Pacers’ pre-draft workouts that begin next moth. He also expects to be part of the Summer League group that goes down to Orlando.

Last September, the Pacers talked about their plans to create a consistent, effective working environment with the Mad Ants. The lines would be open … for two-way communication.

It’s one thing to say it and it’s another thing to do so. And Pacers Sports & Entertainment, according to Gansey, have done just that.

“The Pacers have been unbelievable to me and it’s been a great experience,” he said.

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