More than a Hollywood Story: Andre Ingram's Long Road to the NBA

After ten years of grinding away in the G-League, 32-year-old Andre Ingram made his NBA debut on April 9th. He took full advantage of the opportunity and quickly etched his name into the hearts of NBA fans around the league.

If you were to pitch Andre Ingram's story to a Hollywood executive, you would be laughed out of the room. After a successful but not spectacular college career, Ingram could have signed with any number of teams overseas for an easy payday. But instead of doing that, he opted to stay in the U.S. and play in the D-League in the hopes of one day earning an NBA call-up.

Eleven years have passed since Andre Ingram was drafted by the Utah Flash in the seventh round of the 2007 D-League draft. (Ingram has played in ten of those seasons, having missed the 2012-13 season to take care of his young daughter while his wife finished her college degree--a story that seems almost impossible in modern-day professional sports.) During that time, the D-League has become the G-League and Ingram has written his name into the league's record books. He has played in more D-League/G-League games than anyone but Renaldo Major (who at least got a cup of coffee in the NBA before embarking on his D-League career). Ingram is also the all-time G-League leader in 3-point makes by a wide margin. He spent his offseasons as a math and physics tutor, just waiting for a chance that looked like it might never come.

When the Los Angeles Lakers signed Ingram on April 9th, it appeared on the surface to be a typical feel-good story -- after paying his dues for years, the Lakers must have thought it might be nice to allow him to step onto the court for an NBA game. It certainly didn't hurt that the team's two primary point guards, Lonzo Ball and Isaiah Thomas, were ruled out for the rest of the season. Instead of playing token minutes, however, Ingram seized his chance in a stellar debut. His second game was not as impressive as his first, but Ingram adjusted to his tough shooting night by contributing in other ways.

Ingram might never play another NBA game after this season. However, basketball fans around the world should hope that his stellar debut and storied G-League career will be enough to earn him at least another year under the bright lights of the NBA.

The Longest Road

Ingram began his long journey to the NBA at American University in Washington D.C., a school known far more for its academics than its athletics. Before Ingram, only one AU graduate found his way to the NBA -- Kermit Washington, more famous for nearly killing Rudy Tomjanovich than for his NBA career. American University's most famous graduate in the NBA world is probably David Aldridge, who hasn't exactly put up numbers in an NBA uniform. Still, Ingram finished his career as the fifth-leading scorer in school history with 1,655 points. He led the team in scoring in each of his four seasons, earning two first-team All-Patriot League berths and one second-team spot.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in physics, Ingram found his way to the D-League with the Utah Flash. During his time in Utah, Ingram became the franchise's all-time leading scorer -- a distinction that probably will not go away any time soon, seeing as the franchise is now defunct. He developed a well-deserved reputation as an outstanding teammate and person, winning the league's sportsmanship award during the 2009-10 season.

Ingram's character is above reproach, but his shooting touch is even more undeniable. Ingram won two G-League 3-point contests, including a ridiculous 39 of 50 performance over two rounds in 2016. He has connected on 713 shots from deep, making him the only player in G-League history with more than 700 triples. (He is also the only player in G-League history with more than 600 triples, and the only player in G-League history with more than 550 triples.)

Ingram is not just a chucker, however. Prior to his call-up on Monday, he was the G-League's active leader in 3-point percentage, knocking down shots from long range at a stellar 46.1% clip. One would think that his spectacular shooting alone would have been enough to earn Ingram at least a 10-day contract, but his NBA chance never came. Until one day, finally, it did. And Ingram took his one chance and ran with it.

One Chance, One Opportunity

If Ingram had played five minutes on Tuesday night and scored once, his story would have been a nice feel-good moment to close out a mediocre year in Los Angeles. Instead of basking in the joy of the moment, however, Ingram proved his worth in one of the more impressive debut performances in recent NBA history:

Ingram finished with 19 points on just eight shots and connected on four of his five attempts from beyond the arc. He also chipped in on the defensive end with three blocks and a steal. The Rockets gave him plenty of space on his first two looks, but by the fourth quarter, Ingram had to make two tough shots over Gerald Green. His debut performance certainly came as a surprise to Houston, even though he has always been a dangerous shooter.

Ingram did not catch the Los Angeles Clippers off guard in his second game. The Clippers tagged Ingram beyond the arc all night long, and he finished with just five points and one triple. While his shots were not falling in this game, Ingram adjusted admirably and took advantage of the extra defensive attention. He dished out six assists and also chipped in on the defensive end with two steals. Although he took a couple of questionable shots and threw away the ball on an admittedly poor pass in the third quarter, the Lakers played better with Andre on the floor -- he finished the contest with a game-high plus-minus of +23.

Future Outlook: An NBA Home?

Given his long G-League tenure and his very brief stint with the Lakers, Ingram will probably never suit up for another NBA team. However, Ingram should have at least gotten a 10-day contract much earlier in his career. As the NBA trends more towards pace-and-space offenses that emphasize 3-point shooting, there are quite a few teams that could use a player with Ingram's elite shooting ability. His defensive IQ is also quite robust, same too his effort level. Ingram really only needs to defend above an abysmal level for his shooting touch to make a positive impact, and his play during his first two NBA games indicates that Ingram can at least avoid being a turnstile on that end of the floor.

Whether Ingram plays in the NBA next season does not change what happened this year. After a decade of grinding it out in the D-League and supplementing his meager income by tutoring kids during the offseason, Ingram finally achieved his dream. For a story so unbelievable and so heartwarming, he couldn't have picked a better place than Los Angeles to write it. It's more strange and more wonderful than any sports story Hollywood could create.

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