1-on-1 with Mad Ants coach Tom Hankins before another G League season
Hankins enters his fourth season as Indiana Mad Ants head coach. Coming from the college game, he's really enjoyed it and learned to embrace the unexpected.
The Pacers’ G League team looks a little different this season. Beyond a temporary name change, from Fort Wayne to Indiana Mad Ants, several familiar players are no longer with the franchise. Guys like Justin Anderson and Gabe York.
They opened camp on Oct. 30, played in exhibition games on Nov. 4 and on Saturday, Nov. 11, they begin a new season on the road in Sioux Falls at 8 p.m. ET. (The game will be streamed on YouTube.)
Then on Monday, they return home to host Windy City in their home opener at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. This is the third consecutive season the Mad Ants will play some games at the Pacers’ arena, but it’s the first where every home game will be held there.
On May 8th, the franchise announced its intentions to move permanently from Fort Wayne and that a new arena, in partnership with the city of Noblesville, would be built. At least for the next two seasons, until the Noblesville Event Center is ready, The Fieldhouse will serve as their home arena.
They broke ground on construction this week. And before it opens in 2025, the team will undergo a name change and complete rebrand.
The Pacers have three players signed to two-way contacts: Kendall Brown, Isaiah Wong and Oscar Tshiebwe. That allows them to split time between the teams.
The Mad Ants have veterans like Elfrid Payton, Jordan Bell and Stephan Hicks back this season. Kyle Mangas, a Warsaw native and former star at Indiana Wesleyan, is on the roster.
And in a surprise twist from the offseason, second-round pick Mojave King elected to be with the Mad Ants rather than playing oversees. He is unavailable to start the season, however, due to a stress reaction in his left foot.
Tom Hankins enters his fourth season as head coach of the Pacers’ G League team. Earlier this week, he talked with Fieldhouse Files about camp, the roster makeup, and how he’s enjoying this new role after being in the college game for so long.
Read our conversation below. (It has been lightly edited for clarity.)
How have things gone in the first week? How would you describe the roster makeup?
This is a group of really good guys. They’re extremely coachable. We had our first scrimmage (last Saturday) and I didn’t really know what to expect. As good as any group, they’ve really tried to do what we’ve asked them to do. We don’t have the offensive firepower that we had last year losing Trevelin Queen and Gabe and Justin Anderson; that’s three guys who can go get 35 points on any given night. We don’t have that.
But I think we will be a better team, as far as playing together. Right now I think so. They’ve worked extremely hard, which is coach speak for training camp. This is not coach speak, it’s true. These guys are really trying to do what we ask and that’s been the most pleasing thing so far.
It looks like you’ll get a lot more opportunities to have the two-way guys because there’s already so many other Pacers players not getting playing time. What is your level of expectation for how much that will happen, and the two first-round picks as well — because you haven’t had that in the last couple of seasons?
The last couple of years have been the craziest. You never know and it’s the same way this year. But I do feel like, right now, we will have the three two-way guys a lot more. But that changes so quickly. The last couple of years, I thought we’d have them a lot more than we did or I thought we’d have some assignment guys, our first-round draft picks last year. Andrew Nembhard after summer league, I thought we’d have him quite a bit. And then he had a great training camp and then he’s starting after game 1 (for the Pacers). I feel like we’ll have the two-way guys quite a bit, maybe more than in the past, just based on the depth of the Pacers. Of course that could always change with injuries.
And then in terms of the draft picks, as long as the Pacers are fully healthy, I think we’ll see Ben Sheppard some and maybe Jarace Walker for a few games.
Have any of the main guys popped and stood out in the first week of camp or is it just too early because of the teaching elements?
It’s too soon to see. We had the one scrimmage (Saturday). Isaiah Wong was really good. Oscar Tshiebwe had zero points, zero rebounds — zeros across the whole stat sheet for one half. And then in the second half, he had seven offensive rebounds and 12 rebounds in 13 minutes of play. He just did what he did in college and was just a man around the boards, then finished up a bunch of stuff around the rim and was really good. It took him a half to get used to the pace of play, the size and strength — and he’s playing against a couple of former high-level college players. So he was really good.