El Segundo — Six months ago, 32-year-old Andre Ingram became an overnight sensation when he earned his first NBA call up with the Los Angeles Lakers after over a decade of grinding it out in the D League (now the G League).
Ingram’s story of hard work and perseverance inspired the masses and allowed him to do things like throw the first pitch out at Dodgers Stadium, appear on national television shows like “Good Morning America” and sign a deal with WME, who will help Ingram turn his story into a book and possibly a movie.
However, after a summer Ingram called a “whirlwind,” he’s back in the G League with the South Bay Lakers, fighting for a roster spot in training camp like everyone else. Why?
“I enjoy it here,” Ingram said at South Bay Lakers Media Day on Monday. “It’s a huge part of the reason I keep coming back. I’m glad to see we still got some pieces still intact from the past season, and we finished up really well last season so we’re all excited to just continue to be part of this season.”
Ingram was a restricted free agent this summer but didn’t receive offers from any NBA teams, not even to play in summer league. While he kept busy with matters off of the court during that time, he was laser focused on the season ahead.
“During that whole process and during the offseason, there wasn’t any time to enjoy it for me because the athlete in me is always thinking about this season and getting ready for it,” Ingram said, “Now that I look back at it, I can smile a bit on it and see it for what it was. It was something that happened that was really cool and obviously touched a lot of people.
“I look back on it now, I can smile and take it in, but when it was happening I couldn’t.”
As the oldest player on South Bay’s roster and a returning player, Ingram will be expected to be a veteran leader on a young team, but he doesn’t see many differences between himself and his teammates on the court beyond their birth year.
“If nothing more, just to have gone through these experiences before, it’s a bit less stressful for me but I can relate to all the feelings, whether they’re just trying to make the team or just being excited about being in the G League or have aspirations of playing in the NBA,” Ingram said.
“The experience factor means something, I guess, from a comfort-level standpoint but I still feel the same as all these guys. I’m here trying to make the roster as well so that stress, that pressure never really goes away at all until you get in season.”
It’s only off the court that he really admits he differs from his teammates.
“The biggest difference is they’re heavy into Fortnite and I haven’t really gotten in to it,” Ingram said. “That’s like the biggest difference, but at the end of the day, we’re all just basketball players, so in that, we’re together.”
Ingram said his leadership style in the past has been to lead by example, but he’s working on becoming a better vocal leader. South Bay Lakers head coach Coby Karl is happy to have Ingram and his energy back in his locker room.
“Dre, you guys have been around him, we’ve been around him for multiple seasons and now the world has been exposed to him,” Karl said. “I told everyone when that happened last season that he’s a better guy than he’s been being portrayed by the media. He’s the same guy. A guy that’s had that success and that attention, he comes into camp and he’s the same guy. He may be even more focused than last season.
“He’s very helpful because I think these guys, everyone was aware of that story last year and then he comes in every day and does the same thing. That adds a lot of value to what we do as an organization.”
But how does Ingram keep his trademark smile with him at all times despite having to essentially start over this season?
“Just being grateful for where you’re at,” Ingram said. “No matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, no matter what you’re striving for, your happiness, your positivity is not tied to a place, it’s where you are. You can be positive and happy anywhere. That’s something you can control. If you can pick out the bright spot or what’s positive about any situation, you’ll be grateful for it and you can live in that. It’s not necessarily ‘I’ll get to this place, then I’ll be happy.’ That’s not how it works at all.”
Ingram also doesn’t look at it as any easier or harder to come back to the G League after getting a taste of NBA success.
“It’s the same every year, the G League especially. No one’s here on a three-year deal. No one’s guaranteed a spot. For every year I’ve played in the D-League I’ve had to make the team, so there’s no differences in easier or harder coming into this season. No matter what happened the previous year, we’re all in the same boat to start. Whether people think that or see that or not, we’re in the same boat,” Ingram said.
If Ingram makes the regular season roster, as he is expected to, he’ll continue to provide the South Bay Lakers a reliable shooter from the outside and be a good locker room guy. Whether or not he gets another call up from the NBA doesn’t matter to him, he just wants to play basketball.
“People can just tell I enjoy being here. I enjoy playing, I want to play as long as I can. Until the wheels fall off, as they say,” Ingram said.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.