Pacers emphasize commitment to Fort Wayne, better Mad Ants team
D-League team enters second year of Pacers ownership
By Reggie Hayes | News-Sentinel
The Indiana Pacers vowed Monday to keep the Mad Ants in Fort Wayne, promised to field a better team, and expressed enthusiasm for a possible downtown arena.
Pacers Sports & Entertainment president and chief operating officer Rick Fuson, vice president of basketball operations Peter Dinwiddie and Mad Ants president Tim Bawmann spoke at the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne at Parkview Field.
Fuson stressed that the Pacers, as owners, are committed to keeping the Mad Ants in Fort Wayne. The team now has a training facility at the ASH Centre, its first full-time training facility in its 10-year history.
“I want to make sure people know we are committed,” Fuson said after his presentation. “There’s never been a discussion about taking them anywhere else. It is the Mad Ants and it is Fort Wayne and it is Northeast Indiana and that’s where they belong.”
On the topic of the possible building of a downtown arena, Fuson emphasized it is Fort Wayne’s decision.
“We’ve not had any major discussions related to any of those things,” Fuson said of a possible Pacers investment in the arena. “Obviously, we want the community to make the right decision for themselves.“
We think downtown is a very important part of a city,” Fuson continued. “As we have in Indianapolis, we’ve been able to build downtown through sports and different things, conventions, and we think that’s important. Hopefully, the folks here will make that decision and we look forward to being part of that arena in some way.”
Pacers Sports & Entertainment purchased the Mad Ants before last season. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird made several trips to Fort Wayne and Pacers players Rakeem Christmas and Shayne Whittington were assigned to Fort Wayne.
But the Mad Ants finished 20-30 and well out of the running for a playoff spot.
“I just want to apologize about last season,” Dinwiddie told the group. “We didn’t do a good enough job as the Pacers in supplying (Mad Ants general manager) Brian Levy and this team with the talent it takes to compete on a nightly basis in the D-League.
”Because the Pacers came into the ownership situation shortly before the season began, there was a bit of a learning curve for the Pacers, Dinwiddie acknowledged.
“I don’t know if (Christmas and Whittington) were the best fit for a D-League team,” Dinwiddie said after addressing the group. “That’s where we have to have to have a better understanding of the type of player it takes to be a successful D-League team."
Bird has made it clear he wants the Mad Ants to compete for a D-League championship, Dinwiddie said.
As a result, the Pacers conferred with Levy and Mad Ants coach Steve Gansey about players they should sign during training camp, release and assign as affiliate players with the Mad Ants.
Those four players are Nick Zeisloft, Julyan Stone, Alex Poythress and Ben Bentil.
Mad Ants president Tim Bawmann, meanwhile, stressed the team’s commitment to improving the game-night atmosphere at Mad Ants games. The team will use curtains at both ends of the Memorial Coliseum, shrinking the seating to about 6,000. They will also have a drumline, a fan zone and a kids’ zone to improve the experience.
Bawmann said the practice facility is a "game changer for us," and Dinwiddie agreed that a top-notch practice facility should help improve the team's play.
Bawmann joked about when he first was hired as the Mad Ants president, he wanted to change the team’s nickname. He has since embraced the nickname, following the lead of Herb Simon, owner of Pacers Sports & Entertainment.“(Simon) loves the Mad Ants name,” Fuson said. “He just loves it. If you ever worry about us changing the Mad Ants name, we ain’t changing it. We may change some other things, but we ain’t changing the name.”
The Mad Ants open the 2016-17 season on Saturday at Greensboro, with the home opener Nov. 20 against Sioux Falls at the coliseum.