Release courtesy of Al King, Assistant Athletic Director, Media Relations at Ashland University
Ashland, Ohio -- A little over a week ago, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants were taking orders from a head coach with an embossed AARP card.
Now, they receive their marching orders from a head coach whose college ID card still shines like it just arrived from the printer.
Last week, the NBA Developmental League’s Mad Ants relieved 62-year-old Joey Meyer as the head coach and named 26-year-old Steve Gansey as the interim head coach. Gansey, who is 2-2 as the head coach, is a 2011 Ashland University graduate.
“I always thought I’d be a head coach,” said Gansey. “I just didn’t think that I’d be a head coach at 26.”
The Mad Ants are affiliated with the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers. Meyer was the career leader in victories on the NBA-DL level. Gansey is the fourth head coach the team has had in less than five years. A native of Cleveland, he made his debut as the head coach in Canton, Ohio, on Jan. 6. The Mad Ants lost that game to the Canton Charge, an affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 114-93. The next night, in Fort Wayne, Gansey got his first victory as a head coach as the Mad Ants rebounded to defeat Canton, 107-98.
Gansey was in his third year with the Mad Ants when he took over for Meyer. He began with the organization as a volunteer coach. Because of his time spent on the bench, he has a good comfort level with the Mad Ants. But his situation is unique – of the 10 players on the roster only three are younger than Gansey.
“A lot of the guys on this team are core guys,” explained Gansey. “I’ve been with them for two years working them out over the summer. They’ll fight for me.
“I have two interns who are now assistant coaches,” continued Gansey. “They are my age. I think the difference with us is we’re hungry, we want to win and we won’t bring any negatives to this team.”
Gansey didn’t see any down side to becoming the head coach on short notice, or at such a young age. He said that he didn’t hesitate a moment when Mad Ants president and general manager Jeff Potter offered him the head coaching position. Gansey credits Meyer with giving him a foundation in professional basketball.
“He was great,” Gansey said. “To learn from him was a great opportunity. I wasn’t done learning from him either. He texted me to say congratulations. It was heartwarming for him to take me under his wing.
“When I was offered the job I said, “Absolutely, it’s a great opportunity,” Gansey said. “I want to make the most of it. This doesn’t happen a lot.”
Gansey’s introduction to professional basketball started during his playing days at Ashland. He transferred to AU from Cleveland State and with the Eagles, played under head coach Roger Lyons. Lyons had coached in the Continental Basketball League, World Basketball League and the American Major Basketball League.
“I learned a lot from Coach Lyons,” said Gansey. “As a player, it’s a lot different. You find yourself saying, ‘Why did Coach do this, why did he do that?’ Coach Lyons was very organized and I’m very organized because of him. I talked to him the other day. He said his line is always open to talk hoops.
“He was in the CBA and it was pretty much like the D-League,” explained Gansey. “He told me it’s crucial to make shots. On any given night a guy might not make shots and you have to re-adjust.”
At AU, Gansey was known as a guard who could make a shot under pressure. As a senior in 2007-08 he averaged 11.4 ppg. His junior year he averaged 5.9 ppg.
Those Ashland teams were high-powered offensive units and they worked tirelessly on their sets. That can be difficult to do in the NBA-DL.
“I have two guys who haven’t had a practice and they’ve played three games,” reported Gansey. “The one thing I’ve tried to do different is to play with more passion. The D-League is all about energy and having a passion for the game. If you don’t have that, you’re down by 20. We’ve got to be bulldogs out there. I want to play hard. There’s a great amount of change in our league. Players are going up, coming down. It’s very difficult to have a stable playbook. You want to keep it simple.”
Because he’s so young, the normal assumption is that Gansey could have trouble gaining the attention of referees. There’s also a theory that he will have trouble getting veteran players all pulling in the same direction and following his lead.
“Yes and no,” replied Gansey when asked that question. “It depends on what kind of guys you get. It’s their job to play unselfishly. If they don’t, I just don’t play them.”
So far, Gansey hasn’t encountered that problem.
“I’m dealing with professionals and they know how to conduct themselves on and off the court,” said the Fort Wayne head coach.
There are times when Gansey would still like to be on the court. But the dream of playing is gone and all of his energy is put into coaching. His brother, Mike, who played at West Virginia, also has a job in professional basketball. He’s a paid intern in basketball operations with the Cavaliers.
“We’re both in professional basketball and neither of us in playing anymore,” laughed Gansey.