(Photo Copyrights below to Layne Murdoch Jr/NBE/Getty Images)
Big News 1: Walker Russell JR was called up by the Detroit Pistons last week. He received the call while en route to Sioux Falls last weekend for a pair of Mad Ants road games. He basically jumped off the plane, slept four hours then flew to Detroit just in time to barely miss the Piston's shoot around. He was given a crash course by Piston's Coach Lawrence Frank and his staff. Walker then found himself playing 20 plus minutes as back-up point guard against the Memphis Grizzlies last Saturday night.
The word "deserve" gets thrown around quite a bit in many situations which may not always warrant it. As William Munny from Unforgiven said "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it. " Walker EARNED this opportunity. He has played int he D-League off and on for the past six years, just waiting for the right spot to open up... the right situation. I don't think you could write up a better situation than this one. He gets to return to his hometown , to a team he played with in pre-season, and a team that clearly wants him around. He has played three games to date with the Pistons, and has yet to play less than 12 minutes. He has that natural charisma and floor general mentality that makes guys work harder for him knowing he will make it easier for them to score.
Coach Frank paid Walker some nice compliments after the game where they defeated the Portland Trailblazers. Essentially saying Walker was running plays he (Coach Frank) had drawn up 30 seconds prior and running the offense extremely well.
You can tell everyone from the Piston's announcers to his Piston's teammates want Walker to succeed. He is the hometown son of a former Piston getting his first big long overdue shot and everyone is rooting for him. He has quite a few people in Fort Wayne rooting for him too! I think I speak for everyone in the Mad Ants office when I say "DON'T COME BACK".
Walker and the Pistons are back in action tonight taking on LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Most of the Piston's games air on FS Detroit which is Comcast Channel 9 in Fort Wayne. To just think.. ten days ago you could have been watching him in Fort Wayne where tickets start at just $5... (I know I know, most of you were there!)
Big News 2: Christian Laettner is our new Assistant Coach. Many people have asked me how this all happened and I can give you the short version of it as it was a really quite simple process. We had an Assistant Coach job opening and Christian Laettner was looking to get into coaching. Done. It is a great opportunity for our players to learn from a guy who has accomplished so much in his basketball career and can provide pieces of knowledge to help get them to the next level.
I have heard his focus with the team is going to be with the big men and also defense. I think it adds a great dimension to Coach Gansey's staff to have a guy who has played the PF/C position at the highest level work with our bigs and provide all the little tricks of the trade.
From a marketing standpoint it has been a big success for us as well. The story was everywhere from the front page of Yahoo Sports to being in the USA Today. It is always nice to have one of the best college basketball players of all time and an Olympic Gold Medalist on the team. I am expecting to see quite a few Duke fans come out of the woodwork at our home stand next week (Feb. 2nd/3rd). In Sioux Falls, after his first game as Mad Ants Assistant Coach, reportedly over 100 fans waited outside the locker room to get his autograph.
With the whirlwind schedule the team has been on I have only briefly met Coach Laettner when he came into the office yesterday for a Coaches meeting but he came off as a soft spoken genuinely nice guy who really appreciates this opportunity to continue his basketball career. Here is a nice video interview with Coach Laettner disucssing his first impressions of the D-League conducted by Steve Warden at the Journal Gazette from practice yesterday morning.
Also, if you are wondering how Coach Gansey is handling his new role as Head Coach, especially with bringing in such a high profile assistant check out Mr. Warden's article from this morning's Journal Gazette. In short... he relishes it!
Team Notes: A few player additions since the last time I blogged. We have picked up Travis Walton from the player pool to fill the roster spot Walker Russell JR left when getting called up. Walton is a Michigan State alumni who plays point guard and will be backing up Mad Ants starter Tory Jackson. Walton is a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He was recently playing with the Dakota Wizards before getting waived. Coach Gansey is very familiar with Walton as he spent some time in Fort Wayne over the summer getting some workouts in with Coach Gansey.
We also just added former Illinois big man Mike Tisdale. Mike is a 7'1 center who was up until recently playing for the Maine Red Claws. Mike will be filling the roster spot left by Jarrid Famous. Jarrid is out for a week or so with a sore knee.
We will be playing tonight on the road against the always dangerous Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Make sure to catch the game on NBA Futurecast online. I cannot say enough great things about this service. I have been having office viewing parties over at my house and we are able to put the game up on my TV via the D-League Center Court App. Just a really nice job the D-League to make it easy to follow your favorite team (The Mad Ants of course!) while they are on the road. Game tips off at 8pm EST.