Mad Ants miss out on playoffs in foundational season

The Mad Ants went 20-30 this season.

The Mad Ants went 20-30 this season.

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants’ 2015-16 season concluded Friday evening (April 1) with a double-digit home win. They wrapped up the year winners of their final two games … but they lost eight straight prior to that.

After a great start, the Mad Ants faded out of contention. For the first time since the 2011-12 season, they did not quality for postseason play. That’s notable because Fort Wayne won it all in 2014 and lost in the D-League Finals the following year.

They finished 20-30, at the bottom of the five-team Central Division and ninth (out of 10) in the Eastern Conference. They went 13-12 at home, 7-18 on the road.

Whittington wore out I-69 commuting between Indy and Fort Wayne.

Whittington wore out I-69 commuting between Indy and Fort Wayne.

Their season was highlighted by organizational changes. It’s the Year of Asset Building for Pacers Sports & Entertainment.

Staying ahead of the trend in the NBA, Herb Simon — owner of the Pacers and Fever — purchased the D-League team in early September. They hired Brian Levy as General Manager and then Steve Gansey as head coach.

LISTEN: Podcast with Brian Levy

The Pacers are treating it like training grounds. They can send players there, as they did with Shayne Whittington and Rakeem Christmas most of the season. The offense, defense, and organizational structure is based on what the Pacers are trying to do.

Coach Gansey was in attendance for nearly all of the Pacers’ training camp last fall and was in every coaches meeting, listening, writing notes, and sharing his take.

Whittington just completed his second year as a pro. Making 40 appearances, he 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.

“We wanted them to have some success and win games, and we haven’t done that as much as we would have liked, and we wanted them to be a part of that and learn the NBA style of game,” Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard told The Journal Gazette. “

“For that, it’s preparing every day like a pro. Shayne, coming off (a broken leg in 2014), and getting his foundation, we’ve been happy with what he’s done. Rakeem, we’re proud of him making the All-Star Game, but he’s got to get better. It’s truly development for them.

Rakeem Christmas played in all but two Mad Ants games this season.

Rakeem Christmas played in all but two Mad Ants games this season.

Rakeem Christmas, who the Pacers traded for after the 2015 NBA Draft, was named a D-League All-Star and averaged 13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 48 games. He also shot 47.3 percent from the field.

“Now (Christmas) knows what it is to be a pro,” Pritchard continued. “His ceiling is high, and he knows what it takes to get better. He definitely faded at the end, and that’s something that we need to work on and he needs to make sure that he’s preparing to be a pro.”

VIDEO: Pacers players creating highlights with Mad Ants

Two other Pacers played at least a game in Fort Wayne. Rookie Joe Young wore a Mad Ants uniform three times, averaging 24.3 points per game. Glenn Robinson III made one appearance (11 points, 11 rebounds).

The Mad Ants obviously want to reach the playoffs and contend for a championship. That’s why they play the games. But this was a foundation year for the Mad Ants as the Pacers took full ownership control.

See Also: Pacers committed to keep Mad Ants in Fort Wayne

Meanwhile, the Pacers wrap a two-game road trip Sunday in New York and then return home for three of their final five games. I’m told Whittington and Christmas plan to rejoin the Pacers for practice on Tuesday.

Read Pritchard’s full comments in The Journal Gazette’s Story.

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