FORT WAYNE – It’s an afternoon practice inside the Concordia Seminary gym, and Mad Ants first-year coach Duane Ticknor is in the middle of mayhem as 10 very tall players haul up and down the floor.
While he’s not exactly in his team’s way, Ticknor is well onto the court, so much so that he can high-five second-year guard Sadiel Rojas after Rojas threw a good pass; this coming a few minutes after he gave the same player a piece of his mind when Rojas got beat on defense.
Nice pass, Sadiel! Ticknor yells with a hoarse voice, then whacks him five.
Yes, once again there is a new voice.
The 57-year-old coaching lifer who has prowled the sidelines of nearly every alphabet minor league that’s been out there – CBA, IBA, D-League – is the most recent hope for reviving a Mad Ants franchise that has never had a winning record in its five years.
He is coach No. 5 in season No. 6. His assistant, Steve Gansey, was the fourth coach when Gansey was the interim stopgap when Joey Meyer was released after last season’s 5-10 beginning. Meyer replaced Jaren Jackson, who replaced Kent Davison, who left in the team’s first season to coach overseas.
Now comes Ticknor, with a slight limp, no whistle around his neck and credentials as long as the major league baseball season.
A native of South Dakota, Ticknor has coached in such cellphone-challenged outposts as Black Hills, Siouxland, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. He coached Gary in the CBA. His last head coaching stint in the D-League was a two-year gig in Bismarck, N.D., where he led the Dakota Wizards to back-to-back playoff appearances, including a Central Division championship in 2008.
Last year, he coached in Korea.
Now he’s back in the USA and the D-League, where his newest mission awaits.
I’ve retired twice before, Ticknor said. I got out of the head coaching business before. But it kind of gets in your blood.
It didn’t take long for Ticknor to make his presence known.
The early memo to the team was that the first day of being together was to be a light one, mostly shooting. Instead, he had them running the floor at Concordia, and doing push-ups when he didn’t like their hustle.
Effort is the No. 1 thing, Ticknor said of what’s important. You get warned once, and then you’re out for not playing hard. That drives me crazy.
He tells them if they don’t want to play hard, then they don’t want to play; that there is always someone out there willing to take their place.
To me, a lot of coaches who came in before didn’t hold us accountable like he does, said veteran guard Walker Russell Jr., who played 27 games with the Detroit Pistons last season. It’s more of a demand. We’re talking from me to Ron (Howard) to whoever it is. He holds everyone accountable.
It’s a new message with a new voice in hopes of solving an old problem: losing.
I’ve been there before, Ticknor said of losing games. If you believe in what you’re doing and the way that we do things, I know we’re doing things the right way. And it will carry over onto the basketball floor.
Duane TicknorAge: 57
Hometown: Vermillion, S.D.
Professional coaching: Black Hills, S.D., Dakota, Siouxland (IBA); Rapid City, Gary (CBA); Dakota (D-League)
Personal: Married (Mary); children (David, Chris, Travis)