Melissa Majchrzak

A taste of home: Ingles relishes chance to play against his hometown team

by Aaron Falk

Joe Ingles’ path to the NBA started with a 15-cent investment.

When Ingles was a small child, maybe 4 or 5 years old, his mother dragged him to a basketball game because the team needed another player. The young Ingles refused to play without a little compensation. He wanted a ring-like lollipop called a Ka-Bluey.

The Utah Jazz are thankful his mother agreed.

“I haven’t stopped playing since,” Ingles said.

On Friday night, Ingles will get a chance to suit up against his hometown club, the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian National Basketball League. The game will be a chance for Ingles to not only fine-tune his game for the start of the regular season, but to reflect on his journey to the pinnacle of professional basketball and the pride he feels representing his country in the NBA.

“Representing Australia is huge reason why I play,” he said. “I try to represent myself, my family and my country the right way.” 

A Big Night?

Ingles celebrated his 31st birthday on Tuesday. The day started with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” by Jazz rookie Grayson Allen, after which the veteran had another request.

“My car needs to be washed too!” Ingles shouted at the rookie as he walked off the practice court on Tuesday morning.

Hopefully Allen never got around to it.

Because later that night Ingles made it rain. The Aussie dropped a game-high 24 points to lead the Jazz to a preseason win over Toronto.

“That’s who Joe is, and we’ve been encouraging him to be more and more aggressive from the 3-point line,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “In some ways it was good that he missed some early. A couple of years ago—he wouldn’t’ have shut it down—but he wouldn’t have stayed so aggressive.”

Ingles has found a home in Utah, a place that reminds him of Adelaide.

“It’s very similar to Utah. Minus the snow,” he said. “Very easy to get around. Good people. No traffic. Good food. Just an easy, kind of like a big country town but in the city. Very similar to here.”

And as he enters his fifth season with the Jazz, Ingles credits Snyder and the coaching staff in Utah for transforming him from a fringe NBA player to a starter on a playoff team. Ingles shot 44 percent from deep last season, making a franchise-record 204 triples.

On Tuesday night, Ingles was asked if his early misses shook his confidence.

He smirked.

“I’m the best shooter in the league,” he said. “That’s a silly question.”

Ingles’ development has been a point of pride for the Jazz. Even at age 31, Snyder and the Jazz are looking for more from the Aussie. 

“The numbers I’ve shot, the percentages are what they are. People are going to dissect everything. But I honestly feel like they’re all going to go in when I shoot the ball. When I feel like it’s my shot within the flow of our offense, getting it in rhythm, I feel like I should make every one of them. That’s why it pisses me off so much when I miss open shots in practice, because I feel like I should make them.”

Where did that confidence come from?

“That guy over there in the blue hat,” Ingles said, looking at Snyder. “Coach has been, from Day 1 when I was hesitant and just trying to find my way in the league, has been constantly telling me to shoot it if I’m open. To have a coach that believes in you, there’s not much more you could ask for.”

Donovan Mitchell has a prediction for Ingles’ Friday night against his hometown club: “I think Joe’s going to take about 35 shots.”

Ingles, meanwhile, sees only one problem with that.

“That means Donovan has to pass the ball, and we all know that’s not happening,” he joked.

Boomer Pride 

The Adelaide 36ers were in the crowd at Vivint Smart Home Arena on Tuesday night as Ingles celebrated his birthday with a few thousand Jazz fans.

“I don’t know if they were scouting or just enjoying it,” Ingles said. “It will be good to play against those guys and catch up with them a little bit.”

This is the second consecutive year the Jazz have faced off against Australian National Basketball League (NBL) competition in the preseason.

“I love it,” Ingles said. “Our other guys probably hate it. I played in that league back home so I love anything I can do that can help promote the league.”

Ingles also loves the fight the NBL teams have shown in America.

The Jazz won big last week when they hosted the Perth Wildcats, but Ingles remains impressed with the effort on the court.

“They might not win, but they compete,” he said. “Up 30, down whatever the scoreboard is, they play the same way. I hope one of those teams gets a win. Not against the Jazz. But hopefully one of them will get one.”

Australian basketball is enjoying a boom.

Ingles and point guard Danté Exum are teammates in Utah. Philadelphia forward Ben Simmons was last season’s Rookie of the Year. Ingles, though, isn’t taking this moment for granted.

“It’s funny because we’ve got the most Aussies we’ve ever had in the NBA and it’s still only 10 players out of 23 million people,” he said. “To be one of those 10 is special. I think all of us represent Australia very well. It’s kind of in the back of our minds every time we step out there.”