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Last updated: Fri. Nov. 02, 2012 - 02:34 am EDT

Mad Ants looking for big bodies in D-League draft

Purdue's JaJuan Johnson expected to be No.1 pick

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Players from Indiana colleges who are eligible for tonight's NBA D-League draft:

Anthony Newell, Ball State

Pierre Sneed, Ball State

Shelvin Mack, Butler

Shawn Vanzant, Butler

Jeremiah Rivers, Indiana

Rod Wilmont, Indiana

Joshua Crawford, Indiana State

Bryant Austin, Indiana Tech

Rodney Bartholomew, Indiana Tech

Adetayo Adesanya, Purdue

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue

For more on the Mad Ants, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

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First-year Mad Ants coach Duane Ticknor expects to see a notable difference in philosophy among the NBA D-League teams in tonight's draft.

Eleven of the 16 teams in the D-League are owned by NBA teams. Their teams' needs won't necessarily match those of the five independent teams, including the Mad Ants.

“The NBA-owned teams will probably go younger,” Ticknor said. “The way to a quick fix for a franchise is to get smart, veteran players. That doesn't mean we want to miss on young, energetic guys, too. But some of those (veterans) may get overlooked by the NBA(-owned) teams.

“Their goals are different than ours. …I don't mind developing players, but this franchise needs to win. The next couple years are really crucial for the franchise in general.”

The Mad Ants enter their sixth season. They have yet to finish with an above-.500 record or make the playoffs. Last year was rock bottom: a league-worst 14-36 record.

So they have the No.1 pick in tonight's draft, which sources tell The News-Sentinel will be used to take former Purdue standout JaJuan Johnson.

But as good as Johnson could be, with his size (6-10) and offensive and defensive skills, the Ants are looking to fill a good chunk of the roster with other veteran players in the draft pool.

Fort Wayne will also have the first rights to players who enter the D-League pool after the season starts.

“It's fun,” Ticknor said. “I kind of like starting from scratch almost. I don't want to say it's nerve-wracking, but you just have to do your due diligence, do your work. Just because a guy is a great player doesn't mean he's a good fit.”

The Ants have already signed guards Walker Russell Jr. and Ron Howard, two players who have spent a lot of time with the team over the last five years. Russell was called up to the Detroit Pistons and spent the second half of the season with them. He was released at the end of training camp with the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.

Ticknor said Russell is a good player to start with because of his skills as both a distributing and scoring point guard.

“His veteran leadership will be great early in the year,” Ticknor said. “I'm not dumb. If he's not called up by the middle to end of January, he's probably going to go (overseas). But Walker's honest about it. He's going to tell you that. He's not going to come in two days before and say he's leaving.”

It will be imperative, Ticknor said, to acquire a strong backup point guard. Last year's Ants backup, former Notre Dame standout Tory Jackson, retired from basketball to become a high school coach in Michigan.

It's equally important for the Mad Ants to bring in some mature, physical players, Ticknor said.

Ticknor said he would have liked to bring back veteran guard Stephen Graham, but Graham signed a lucrative deal in China.

“He's the kind of guy you win with in this league,” Ticknor said. “You've seen the good teams. L.A. comes in here, it's the men against the boys. Look at their bodies compared to our bodies.”

All D-League teams are required to have one true rookie on the roster. The Mad Ants had six rookies on their roster at one point last season.

Ticknor and Ants President Jeff Potter will try to find the right mix of players, not necessarily the most well-known.

“The best players don't win, the best teams do,” Ticknor said. “Unless you have LeBron and Dwyane Wade.”

rhayes@news-sentinel.com


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