Fort Wayne has retooled its lineup, which now features veteran Ron Howard at point guard and newly acquired Luke Harangody as a vital cog. The first two games – wins over Texas and Erie last weekend – seemed to be a major step in the right direction.
“We're still five games under .500, so we can't be satisfied with a couple wins,” Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. “We have the team with the best record in the league coming in for a couple games, so we have our work cut out for us.
“We're happy with the steps we've made, but we have to keep building on it. This is the way we're supposed to be playing basketball. To be satisfied with that would be bad coaching.”
Howard, the team's leading scorer, has 19 assists in two games since moving almost exclusively to the point after the trade of Walker Russell Jr.
“He probably should have been playing lead guard the last five years if he wants a chance in the NBA,” Ticknor said. “He's been fantastic. He's still shooting the ball well. He's as quick as any guard in the league.”
Howard has played the point at various times during the season, even when Russell was still with the Ants. Howard also worked on the position over the summer when he went on a brief barnstorming-type tour with Ticknor.
“I've played it in spot situations the past couple of years, as well as playing with one of the best point guards in the league in Walker, so I understand the position more and I've become more comfortable with it,” Howard said. “I've been working on it the last couple years so, hopefully, it shows.”
The Ants have also benefited from the addition of Harangody, acquired last week in a trade that sent JaJuan Johnson to Canton.
Harangody, a familiar name to Fort Wayne fans from his strong career at Notre Dame, has scored 41 points with 30 rebounds in two games.
Ticknor said the Ants' offense should be more diversified in the coming games as Harangody and another newcomer, Anthony Richardson, have time to practice with the team. Harangody played against Texas on the day he arrived in town.
“It's nice to have a couple days of practice in between games,” Harangody said. “That's where we really learn, not on the fly in games. … You have to get to know everyone's tendencies and how they like to play, and that only happens over time. It takes longer than a week; sometimes it takes a couple weeks.”
Santa Cruz comes to Fort Wayne on a five-game winning streak. The Warriors include two players who spent time with the Mad Ants: second-year Cameron Jones (10 ppg) and recently signed guard Darington Hobson, who played eight games with the Ants while with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Fort Wayne should get a boost again from the Indiana Pacers, who are expected to send Orlando Johnson and Miles Plumlee to the team for these two games. Johnson played in the win over Texas and Plumlee in the win at Erie last weekend.
Ticknor said both players have been great to deal with and have fit in with the team well when they've been assigned here.
"Orlando and Miles have great attitudes," Howard said. "It's easy to welcome those guys here. They fit what we're trying to do. It's a good situation for both of us."
The Ants and Warriors will meet again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the coliseum. After that, the Mad Ants will not be home again until Jan. 31.
Santa Cruz at Mad AntsTipoff: 7 tonight
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