Monday, April 20, 2015

The past, present

So now we step out of the Wayback Machine, and it is springtime past. Tim Tebow is on an NFL roster again, the Eagles signing him a one-year deal that will instantly make him the most famous third-string quarterback in NFL history. And the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are back in the D-League finals, one year after that magic night when the confetti fell and the music blared and the Mad Ant who had seen it all, Ron Howard, finally got his just reward.

If I close my eyes, I can still see that night, Howard hoisting the trophy, a four-lane smile sprawled across his face. And now I open them, and here are some of the same  characters (Conner Henry, Trey McKinney-Jones, Matt Bouldin) pressing the replay button.

The Ants kicked Canton to the curb in Canton last night, advancing to the D-League finals for the second straight year. Once again, they have yet to lose a playoff game, sweeping regular-season champ Maine in the first round and Canton in the semis. Once again, they seemed to have elevated their game at the exact moment when that was required -- and now, once again, they're two wins away from the confetti and the trophy and the celebration.

And, once again, I'm compelled to marvel at the reversal of fortune.

Three years ago, the Mad Ants were a D-League bust, a chronic loser that put on a great show on game nights but had never made the playoffs in their five seasons of existence. And there was more than a little grumbling that team president Jeff Potter and the front office were the problem.

Potter had been through two coaches by that time, and yet, among four teams that joined the league in 2007, only the Mad Ants had failed to reach the postseason. They'd never had a winning record. They'd never finished higher than third in their division. And so when the third coach, D-League veteran Duane Ticknor, came aboard, there was a healthy amount of skepticism that Potter would get out of his way long enough for him to work his magic.

Those days seem very far away now.

Ticknor showed up, Potter gave him his head, and, in their sixth season, the Ants finally made the playoffs, losing in the first round.  Then Ticknor left for the Grizzlies, and Potter made another brilliant hire, bringing in veteran D-League assistant Conner Henry. And Henry produced a champion right out of the gate.

Now it's 2015 and he seems poised to do it again, and the skepticism about the direction of the franchise is long in the ground. Henry is the best coach in the league. Potter's front office is now justifiably regarded as the league standard. And the franchise that could never seem to get anything right has now won 10 straight playoff games since last spring.

Three years ago they were the never-show Clippers. Now they're the Showtime Lakers. Who saw that coming?

And who wouldn't want to see it again?


No comments:

Post a Comment