The greatest three-point shooter you've never heard of works out in silence. His teammates laugh and lovingly rib each other during the D-Fenders' pregame three-point shooting drill he instituted, but not Andre Ingram.
The D-League's all-time leader in made three-pointers is silent, solely concentrated on his two current goals: putting the ball in the basket and shuffling to the next spot outside the arc. Ingram does not make a peep throughout the whole process, save for a grunt of annoyance when he misses or a smile and brief chuckle at point guard Josh Magette's jokes.
Children practice their dance routine for the halftime show right behind him and shooting guard Vander Blue breaks into an impromptu song and dance routine while moving from spot to spot. Still Ingram does not budge unless he's directly addressed, remaining laser-focused on the task at hand.
"Once I get to the gym, nothing else matters except the 48 minutes we're about to play," says Ingram. "So I just block everything else out except for that which I need to do to get ready to play."
The roots of this singular focus trace back to Richmond, Virginia, where Ingram grew up in a tight-knit family of four, a place his family still calls home. Ingram describes his parents as "hard workers," a trait they passed down to their youngest son, who always seemed to have an extraordinary love for not only the game, but the preparation required to be great. At age ten, Ingram was already showing signs of the discipline that would define his professional career.
"Dre was a very smart kid but he would come outside and he would shoot probably an hour and a half, two hours, up until dark. And then on the weekends, you just couldn't pry him off the basketball court.," said Lucius Ingram, Andre's older brother. "And [he was] shooting with a purpose. A lot of kids go outside and they're dribbling around in a circle, pretending they're Magic Johnson, or they're shooting sky hooks, or they're Michael Jordan and they're shooting fadeaways. I can honestly say that I have never really seen Dre shoot bad practice shots."
Stephen Curry now tests his own limits and captures the public's imagination by increasing his range during his warmup routine, and the elder brother describes the younger Ingram's practice habits similarly. "The bad shot was 'how far back can I shoot in my same form?'" says Lucious. "He's just a disciplined guy like that"
At ten, Ingram was already laying the groundwork for his shooting prowess. By the time he turned 12, he was beating his older brother in one-on-one and becoming dangerous in the elder Ingram's pickup games with friends.
"He was much smaller, we're seven years apart, so he's much smaller than everyone else on the court," recalls Lucious. "Guys would sort of sag off of him, they would just kind of leave him open on the perimeter. Well, he started making shots at a rate to where he made himself someone that you had to guard."
This forced Ingram to learn how to release his shot more quickly, which led to the only variation in his shot attempts during his pregame routine. Every single one of Ingram's jumpers looks almost exactly the same, his feet moving forward in the same way, his body turned toward the basket identically. The only difference is in his release. On some attempts, Ingram gets the ball out quickly like he is attempting a heat check. On others, he holds his follow-through.
"You have to have different types of follow-throughs in the game, because sometimes in the game I end up holding it, sometimes I have to let it go quicker because guys are closing out pretty fast, so I try to practice both," explains Ingram. "I try to practice any and everything I'm going to be doing out there, so it doesn't feel weird when I'm shooting it in the game, and it's worked out well for me."
It worked out well enough that Ingram went on to find some regional acclaim, but after a loss in a tournament following his sophomore season in high school, the Ingram brothers traveled to one of the courts they frequented for a late night discussion on how to get better. Lucious suggested Andre should improve his physical fitness with a local trainer he had heard good things about.
"I said 'you're not in bad shape, but you're not physically at a point where you can take a pounding and still have that stroke later in games,'" remembers Lucious. "So they tell me this guy is tough, is he someone you want to go to?' and [Andre] goes 'yeah of course.'"
That guy was Mike Craven, who runs a local gym for high school athletes in the area. The gym was a no-frills affair, described by Lucious as a "sweatbox" solely designed for athletes to improve. For Andre, it was the perfect spot.
"He's like 30 minutes into the workout, and to this day, I've never seen my brother in more pain just from the conditioning drills that came along with this initial workout. This is day one. It's everything from his arm to his legs, to jumping, to stretching, to lifting, to benching, and this guy kind of had a rule of 'when you're done you've got [to do] one more [set].'" says Lucious.
"And I was so impressed with Andre because he fought through it. And we're walking to the car and I'm like 'are you all right?' And Andre just nodded his head yes. We probably didn't get two miles down the road before he was asleep and snoring, head rolled back."
"And we got home, the next day, thank God it was a weekend, he didn't move. He didn't get out of the bed. I said 'oh man this was a bad idea, I turned the kid off to lifting and all of that stuff.' But come the next Monday, the date of his next session, he was ready to go. He was ready to go earlier than we said that we were going to leave and go."
Ingram went on from the experience to further improve, shooting an impressive 49 percent from three-point range during his senior year of high school at Highland Springs and earning a full-ride to American University. Once in college, the high-school straight A student took the first part of "student-athlete" seriously, majoring in physics (he jokes his understanding of the subject gives him a subconscious advantage in shooting).
"I wanted to do engineering but they didn't have engineering and physics was the closest thing," says Ingram in his typical relaxed cadence, as though he thinks that is a totally normal thing for a professional athlete to say.
After going undrafted, Ingram played two seasons with the Utah Flash of the NBA Development league before receiving a summer league roster spot with the Utah Jazz. Unable to crack the Jazz roster, Ingram spent two more years with the Flash before playing his last four with the D-Fenders. While he says he has had opportunities to go and make more money overseas, Ingram, a family man who is married with two daughters aged four and three, is grateful to have never had to spend more than a month-and-a-half away from his family.
"I think my first few years in the D-League when I was in Utah, that would have been the prime time to go overseas but I felt I was close to being called up, and so you just kind of pick and choose. 'Do you go after your dream, or do you go overseas?' And so I chose to stay. And you know, I don't regret the decision at all. I've enjoyed my time here, and I've been able to make a nice career out of it," says Ingram.
In the D-League, where maximum salaries are $25,000 a season and $13,000 on the low end, many players have second jobs even if they are having a nice career. Most aren't tutoring high school students in calculus, but Ingram isn't most D-Leaguers.
In the offseason, the physics major supplements his income by tutoring, and keeps some of his clients during the season as well, helping them do their homework and solve equations via Skype. While this can be a challenge to squeeze in at times given the often busy schedule of a professional athlete and having two kids, Ingram makes it work.
"We have off days, and off times, and I love doing it," says the man who is likely the sweetest-shooting math tutor any high school student has ever seen.
Ingram's tutelage has extended from high schoolers to his teammates, who appreciate the veteran just as much for his easy-going personality and contributions to team chemistry as for his shooting.
"[Andre is] the kind of guy you want your sister to date, or your sister to marry. There really is no bad thing you could say about the guy," says D-Fenders starting point guard and the first and most frequent participant in Ingram's pregame shooting drills, Josh Magette.
"He does the right thing every single day, whether he's playing five minutes a game, no minutes, or 48 minutes, he's going to have the same attitude, he's the perfect teammate, and there really is nothing negative you can say about him."
Head coach Casey Owens agrees, and is grateful that Ingram has allowed his formerly solitary pregame shooting routine to become a team activity.
"The guys really look up to Dre and respect his process and they saw what he was doing and the results, and they said 'hey, let me jump in there,'" says Owens. "Dre being the good guy that he is, does it, and then you know you'll see as soon as he goes and finishes it with the group he'll go and do it again by himself because that's his real thing. He likes to do it one-on-0. But he's made it a group shooting drill, and you know I think it's really helped our shooting as a team."
It's certainly helped Ingram's. The eight-year D-League veteran is the league's all-time leader in three-pointers with 1229 and counting. He also shoots the highest percentage in league history among players with more than 100 attempts (45.2 percent) and is shooting a scorching 49.1 percent on 4.4 attempts per game this season. He won the D-League three-point shooting contest for the second time (he first won in 2010) at the 2016 All-Star weekend by canning 39 of his 50 attempts. His coach and multiple teammates described him as the best shooter they have ever been around, and his proficiency from range has made it so D-League defenses can't forget about Dre.
"We all have some God-given ability in some way, and for me I definitely have some in shooting," allows Ingram, not normally one to self-promote. "[But] there comes a point where you go from what you've been given, to you have to amplify that, because that's what separates you."
That process of separating himself starts with a phone call to his older brother on the way to the gym. Andre calls Lucious to talk strategy and matchups on the way to every game, either walking the streets of El Segundo to the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility (where the D-Fenders play their games) or on the team bus to the arena if the team is on the road.
Following his phone call, Ingram asks for a little help from the man upstairs, and no, that doesn't mean Mitch Kupchak. Ingram may not throw up the basketball type of prayers (i.e. bad shots), but he does count the religious type of prayer as the most important ingredient to his success.
"I pray more than I stretch, more than I shoot jump shots and all those things. My prayer time is a lot higher than how many shots I get up and what have you," says Ingram. "That's number one for me in all that I do is my faith. I'm praying before games, I'm even praying during games to myself, and just kind of making sure I'm in line with God, because that's what carries me through everything."
The deeply religious man may credit all of his success to a higher power, but it hasn't come without one of the most rigorous preparation processes in professional sports. Once he arrives at the arena, almost without fail exactly three hours before the D-Fenders' game is scheduled to start, Ingram starts putting up shots.
Beginning at the right corner, Ingram attempts shots from 12 separate spots just inside and then behind the arc, rotating from area to area until he and whichever teammates choosing to join him that day have made a combined 20 baskets in each spot, generally with an assistant coach rebounding for them.
After he finishes the shooting routine to his satisfaction, Ingram high-fives each teammate and assistant coach who participated before walking over to the right side of the baseline. Once there he lays on his back, bringing one leg at a time vertical with an elastic band to stretch his hamstrings, working each leg a few times to prevent muscle tears he struggled with early in his career.
Once Ingram's legs feel loose, it's on to dribbling drills that are far more advanced than one would expect for a player primarily known as a spot-up shooter.
The rapid percussion of Ingram's intricate routine shakes the hardwood floor and seats just feet away on the baseline.The 30-year old part-time math tutor begins by dribbling one ball in either hand at alternating speeds and heights. Ingram quickly bounces one ball at a height just above his ankle with his right hand while the other is slightly slower at around knee height before switching.
Next Ingram dribbles the ball around each leg just a few inches off of the floor, alternating hands and directions of the circles around his leg. After completing these rotations a few times, he pounds the ball on the floor to bring it higher and grabs the second ball again. Ingram crosses the balls back and forth in front of himself, almost like each hand is completing its own mini-crossover dribble, once again at differing heights and speeds to make things more difficult. The entire dribbling exhibition takes about 20 minutes, but he's not done yet.
Sweat drenching the white shirt he wears over his jersey making the home yellow increasingly visible underneath, Ingram then moves into another stretching sequence, walking back and forth along the baseline doing toe raises, followed by lunges while raising his arms. Next he completes some squats, then moves onto one-legged stands with his entire body horizontal and his arms out, like some mixture of a stork and Superman.
In a meditative-like state of calm throughout, Ingram doesn't even flinch when a camera man nearly runs into him while he is balancing on one leg. He then transitions into high kicks in which his toe is nearly level with his forehead at the apex of the swing before finishing by taking free throws alone on the opposing basket.
Ingram does this entire set before every single game, and it's a lot of work for a player who is in his eighth year as a professional, but it's something that all of his time in basketball has given him an appreciation for.
"I think you get to a certain age with a certain number of years in, and if you don't love it, you'll stop. And it'll show out in your play. So in order to keep playing like I'm wanting to do, you have to love that process, which is why I haven't had a problem with playing out here and still being effective today," says Ingram. "I love the process of what I do."
That process extends beyond games, and Ingram's work doesn't end when the season does. Upon returning to Richmond at the conclusion of his season, Ingram takes the rest of that week off, and then is right back to work maintaining his level of play the next Monday.
"He gets up at five a.m., he showers before he goes to the gym and works out and plays," says Lucious, how proud he is of his only younger brother obvious in his tone. "He has a little bit of cereal, just enough to put something in his stomach, and then he's in the gym."
Ingram gets to Cool Springs gym in Mechanicsville, Virginia, an approximately 20-minute drive from his parents house, right when it opens at 5:30 from Monday to Wednesday. After taking Thursday off to recover he repeats the process on Friday.
Over the weekend, the gym opens early so Ingram can get shots up before spending his Saturdays and Sundays playing pick up with the locals.
"That's just his discipline," says Lucious. "This is day in, day out. It's remarkable. Just the preparation that he puts himself through. I haven't seen anything like it and I've been around basketball my whole life."
That discipline hasn't resulted in an NBA call-up yet, but that won't make Ingram change his process. Wherever he is, he's never going to stop working. It's in his blood.
"I come from a family who works. They work hard. My mom and dad in their businesses, and doing what they've done over 30 or 40 years of work they are still working," says Ingram. "They're well in to the age where they could be retired but they choose not to. They choose to keep working, and I think I took that from them. That's one thing to know about me is whatever it is, if it's playing ball, if it's going to school, or whatever the case is, whatever I'm involved with, I'm going to work."
You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.