Shayne Whittington, Ft. Wayne Mad Ants in D-League Finals

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are headed to the NBA’s Developmental League Finals for the second straight season after handling the Canton Charge, 103-85, in the conference finals for a 2-0 series sweep. The Mad Ants are the Pacers’ affiliate and the only independent team left as the majority of NBA franchises have their own team.

Beginning Thursday night (8 p.m.) at Memorial Coliseum, the Mad Ants look to defend their title as they face Santa Cruz in a three-game series, which is a rematch from last year’s finals. Pacers play-by-play man Chris Denari will team up with Oklahoma City Thunder analyst Michael Cage for the broadcasts, which will air on ESPNU.

The Mad Ants are notable to Indiana sports for three reasons: 1) It’s an Indiana team, 2) they’re the Pacers’ D-League affiliate, 3) and Pacers rookie Shayne Whittington joined the team for the playoffs.

[Whittington honored to go against Tim Duncan]

Whittington, 24, didn’t play much in the NBA during his first pro season, but he showed encouraging signs less than a year after breaking his left fibula and tearing some ligaments in his foot. The Western Michigan product played limited time in 20 games, and averaged 2.9 points and 1.5 rebounds. He connected on 19 of his 42 field goals attempted. Both Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel are encouraged by his progress and with what he could produce in future seasons.

In the Mad Ants’ latest win, Whittington played sparingly (10 minutes), missed both of his shots and finished with two points and a rebound. In the game prior, however, he finished with seven points (3-of-5 FGs), six rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 24 minutes.

[ESPN ranked Whittington as the NBA’s worst player last September]

Pacers training camp invitee C.J. Fair is a starter on the team, as is former IU and fringe NBA player Jordan Crawford. Mad Ants head coach Conner Henry, who spent time with the Pacers during Summer League and training camp, is perfect in the playoffs as Mad Ants coach: 10-0.

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