Oshae Brissett became the perfect piece for the Mad Ants at the perfect time
By Fort Wayne Mad Ants Staff /July 7, 2022
Roster turnover in the NBA G League can be complex. This has been especially true over the past two seasons as teams have dealt with the COVID-19 crisis, a shortened single site season in Orlando and 2021-2022's record setting season of NBA call up players.
In the midst of that, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants added Oshae Brissett during the 2020-21 NBA G League Draft as a second round pick. He quickly became a perfect and stabilizing piece for the franchise before he ever suited up with the Indiana Pacers.
"Really due to his versatility as a player, his persona in the locker room, how he fit in with everyone and had a desire to be a great teammate, and his drive to use the G League as a springboard for a real NBA opportunity," current Mad Ants General Manager Chris Taylor said about what drew the organization to Brissett. "He has all the intangibles on the court and his positive energy both on and off the court, or “Brissy vibe” as he would say, is infectious."
On Wednesday, June 29 of this year, Brissett's team option with the Indiana Pacers was picked up for the 2022-2023 season. It will mark his third season in gold and blue. During the Pacers Sports and Entertainment ownership era of the Mad Ants, beginning in 2015, it is fair to say that no other Mad Ant to Pacer call up has been as successful as Brissett.
The Mad Ants were in a state of flux with their roster when they drafted the Canadian in January 2021. As one of just 18 teams participating during the single site season, the roster for Fort Wayne was set to be a mix of Pacer assigned players, Mad Ant returners and some new faces. The Mad Ants would not have a first round pick in the draft, meaning Brian Levy (then the General Manager) and Taylor (now the GM, but then the Assistant GM) would need to hang their hat on the 2nd pick of the 2nd round just days before the team would commute to Indianapolis before a trip to Orlando.
That pick just happened to be Brissett, a second year pro who had spent the previous season as a two-way player for the Toronto Raptors. In Toronto, his assistant coach was Nate Bjorkgren, who come 2021's G League Draft, was the head coach of the parent club for Fort Wayne: the Indiana Pacers.
[caption id="attachment_6828" align="aligncenter" width="690"] Oshae Brissett dribbles the ball during practice on February 6, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)[/caption]
"I was at the gym the day of the draft because I didn't know much about the whole draft process, it was a little different," Brissett said. "My agent called me and said I was going to Indiana and I talked to coach Nate [Bjorkgren] that same day. I knew coach Nate and the style he wanted and from that I shifted my focus to being ready for whatever my role was."
"Coming off a two-way Contract with Toronto, we were amazed a player of Oshae’s caliber was still available as we picked in the second round. Which is a true testament to Brian Levy’s wizardry and was fun to watch as he worked the phones on Draft day and we were able to secure Oshae as a Mad Ant," said Taylor. "Outside of Oshae’s experience at the NBA-level, I think the biggest draw was twofold: one, his versatility on the court and, two, he was such a young prospect."
Being in the bubble wasn't completely new for Brissett. Despite an injury keeping him sidelined for the 2020 NBA bubble, Brissett was still part of it with the Toronto Raptors. He had surgery during the NBA bubble, left and came back leaving him experiencing that bubble as a fan Brissett said. Though there were significant differences between the NBA bubble and the G League Single Site experience, Brissett got to go into his time as a Mad Ant knowing how taxing the experience of isolation could be mentally without many things to take your mind off basketball. Once you left practice or a game in the bubble, most of the time was spent alone in a hotel room, meaning that basketball was basically all the players had for six weeks during the NBA G League trip to Orlando.
From the outset of games in Orlando during the single site season, Brissett made an impact. He opened the shortened season with 14 points against Westchester, but a day later scored 21 and pulled down 11 rebounds in what would be the first of his seven double doubles in 12 games. He scored a season high 28 points on February 21 against his former team, Raptors 905, and then finished his season on March 4 scoring 21 points with 15 rebounds, while hitting five three pointers against Canton.
On February 26, Brissett appeared in the #1 spot in the ESPN Sportscenter Top 10 Plays for a dunk against the Long Island Nets.
"You always hope the players you bring in will gel together and play well, and we trusted Oshae would approach the opportunity the right way. So I wouldn’t say it was a surprise with how well he played in the Bubble, but more affirmation that he was the player we believed he was – complete kudos to Oshae for putting in the work from the beginning and being the high character individual he is," Taylor said.
[caption id="attachment_6833" align="aligncenter" width="689"] Oshae Brissett reacts during the game against the Detroit Pistons at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on April 3, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images[/caption]
"A lot of people wanted to watch and were tuning in. A lot of people didn't really pay attention to the G League like that before. But with that [single site] and that was the first year of the Ignite, that brought a lot of eyes to it," Brissett noted. "It helped me for sure. I was able to pick up my play and get going; separate myself as one of the best players in the bubble."
The season left a smaller than usual sample size, but Brissett had established just how good he could be. It culminated with him being named All-NBA G League Second Team after averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game with his energy and enthusiasm permeating through a diverse in style Fort Wayne lineup. He was also third in Most Improved Player voting for the league.
After the single site season concluded, Brissett waited for the next call. While several G League players were getting some calls from the NBA, Brissett said he never knew what teams were going through or their needs but was hopeful to get that call after he had returned home from Orlando. That call happened to come from the Indiana Pacers. On April 1, 2021 Brissett signed the first of consecutive 10-day contracts with Indiana and has been a Pacer ever since. On April 20 of that year, he made his first start as an Indiana Pacer and the next day signed a three year contract with the team, the third year of which was optioned in June by the Pacers. The night he signed that full NBA contract, he scored 23 points and had 12 rebounds.
"Being able to be THAT guy with the Mad Ants gave me confidence to get going with with Indiana," Brissett said. "I was more than happy to join the team, especially at that time really wanting to get that second chance for myself. Any opportunity I got I was going to be extremely excited and just take full advantage of it. A lot of guys were hoping to get that call and me being one of the guys that did, I was extremely blessed."
Throughout the next season, his first full one in Indiana in 2021-2022, Brissett found a way to be a constant presence on the court for Indiana. He played in a team high 67 games, starting 25 of them while averaging 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds.
That, for Oshae, is just the beginning of what he wants to accomplish as a Pacer.
[caption id="attachment_6829" align="aligncenter" width="689"] Oshae Brissett brings the ball up the court against the Iowa Wolves on February 20, 2021 at AdventHealth Arena in Orlando, Florida. Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)[/caption]
"I go into every season showing how much I love being here and how much I want to be here; they city and the fans have welcomed me with open arms," Brissett said. "I want to be that team that goes out there and every single game you can tell how hard we are playing and how much we love playing with each other; how much we love getting up and down and being a great team, not just individual players."
It all comes back to what he did as a Mad Ant, although never playing in Fort Wayne in the blue and gold. Brissett may have been the 15th different Fort Wayne Mad Ant to ever receive a NBA call up, but none of the others before or after have been as successful overall. Brissett did what any call up would want to do, he stuck on the NBA level.
That is not an easy accomplishment. Some of the best players in Mad Ants history have gotten the call up, including the likes of Stephan Hicks, Walt Lemon Jr. and Tony Mitchell. Getting there is hard, staying there is much more difficult.
Brissett did it, he beat the odds.
"Oshae was determined to prove he belonged in the NBA, using the G League as a stepping stone, and truly embodied our mantra of 'Better Basketball Opportunities' with his dedication to his craft. So it has been a true pleasure to see him achieving his dream and even more exciting that chance has come with the Pacers," Taylor said. "Oshae is certainly one of the most important Mad Ants in our franchise’s history because he is a shining example of what our team and the G League is all about: a legitimate development opportunity and pathway to the NBA. And, the fact he is such a good person and approached things the right way, only further cements that."
"Its a real honor," Brissett said of being that Mad Ant who stuck in the NBA on a call up. "I love being being in Indiana. I love the Pacers, I love the fans, I love everything about Indiana so having that as being a Mad Ant who got the call and stuck, it means a lot."
[caption id="attachment_6832" align="aligncenter" width="690"] Oshae Brissett defends LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game on January 19, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)[/caption]