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The Making of Joe Ingles

At every turn, the Utah Jazz forward has been better than expected

Marty Clarke was not even there to watch Joe Ingles.

The current Saint Mary’s assistant worked at the renowned Australian Institute of Sport from 1998 to 2010, and early into his coaching tenure was on a scouting mission for the prestigious institution. This one was in Mount Gambier, South Australia. Clarke’s intention was to gather information on three particular players.

Having watched what he needed to, Clarke really liked two of the three guys he had come to scout. But Player C had taken an entirely different form.

“Who is the skinny lefty with the surfy haircut, the one who looks like he has just rolled out of bed?”, Clarke was asking himself.

That would be 16-year-old Joe Ingles.

“All I could think was, ‘here is a kid who can be really good’”, Clarke says.

That original thought has ultimately transpired. Now 30, Ingles has recently completed his fourth season in the NBA with the Utah Jazz. He has developed substantially since his rookie year in the Association, and before that on a traipse throughout Europe.

“He will always be counted on to make decisions in order for his team to win, and that is the kind of player you want to play with”, says Ingles's ex-teammate in Barcelona, Judson Wallace.

Before playing with the Spanish giants and in the NBA though, the foundation from which all he has achieved began in Australia.

“He is getting old and balding, but that means I am getting old as well”, adds fellow AIS and Australian teammate Matthew Dellavedova, who has played nearly ten years with Ingles at international level.

Back at the camp, Ingles was representing South Australia, at an age where a good showing at the upcoming annual national championships would give him a chance at attending the Institute, where, as Clarke puts it, “the true goal is to produce Olympians.”

That is not an understatement. Ten of the twelve Australian Men’s national team at the 2016 Rio Olympics attended the AIS, a programme that has been copied throughout the world, UK Sport being an example.

Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz - Game Four

Shane Heal, who represented Australia at four Olympic Games and crossed paths with Ingles later down the road, has seen about all you can at international level. And he sees a lot from Ingles too.. “Joe has that rare attribute where he can not dominate and still be the best player in so many facets of the game.”

As a youngster, Ingles had always wanted to play for his country, and to further support his admiration for the green and gold, thought a lot about playing professionally in the National Basketball League - Australia’s premier division - before thoughts of the NBA ever arose.

But Clarke, having caught a glimpse of him for the first time, had other ideas, and wanted to get his hands on him first.

It was not hard to tell that Joe was an NBA guy. It was more, ‘when is he going to get that bell, that opportunity?’

Promoted to head coach at the Institute in 2003, Clarke was an AIS player himself from 1985 to 1987, when it was very much in its infancy. He understands the nuances of basketball development and had a discussion with Ingles when the camp day concluded, explaining what the Institute could offer but that he was probably a year too young for the next intake of players. Ingles is “an October baby”, so off he went to the under-18 national championships in Townsville with a little more on the line.

It was there that Paul Goriss, who joined the AIS as an assistant when Clarke became head coach, also saw him for the first time. He noticed immediately that Ingles could do everything on the basketball court, and look pretty different doing it. “When I first saw that floppy, moppy surf hair, I wanted to cut it”, he chuckles.

Ingles, then, was already defying perception as a teenager, never quite looking the part but more than surpassing what people expected of him on the court. “The enjoyment and love he has for the game separates Joe from others who may have had the same opportunities”, Heal says.

Ingles is, to be sure, better than advertised.

“From Happy Valley in Adelaide, you are going to be pretty meat and potatoes”, Heal says. “None of Australia had really heard of Happy Valley until he came along. He was very Aussie. Natural. Not simple, but straight up and down. He wore his hat, his Chuck Taylor’s, just enjoyed himself.”

That character was brought to the forefront when he played basketball, and the significance of his game in those early years was making a big impression on Clarke.

“Joe played like a point guard, even though he was not one. It clearly indicated that we had something that Basketball Australia had not really had in the past”, he says.

Naturally, there was only one place Ingles needed to be.

“This was a perfect candidate to come to the Institute, for us to get our hands on him two or three times a day and really develop him”, Clarke says.

After speaking with Ingles’s parents and promising a more rounded person and player at the end of his AIS tenure, all was settled. Ingles would be leaving his Adelaide home for the first time.

The AIS is based in Canberra - Australia’s capital city - and, located on the opposite side of the country to Happy Valley, is over 700 miles from Ingles’s comfortable place. A little under three miles away from the Institute lies Lake Ginninderra College (LGC), the secondary school where athletes at the AIS complete their high school education for Years 11 and 12.

Near the Snowy Mountains, Canberra is one of the colder climates in Australia. The region suffers through freezing cold winters and is said to be a tough test for the athletes used to warmer ways.

“Easy-going Joe would be on campus in his shorts”, Steve Walding, sports coordinator and AIS liaison officer at LGC, says.

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Walding worked at the college for 30 years and is still a part-time PE teacher there, never too far from the 25 posters hanging from the gymnasium wall to honour the greatest athletes that have passed through the school. Andrew Bogut, Lauren Jackson, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles…the list gets bigger every year, but Walding never forgets the names.

Ingles, who was thrown into all of this at just age 16, noticed that the challenges were not limited to the court.

“I would say he had never touched a washing machine before in his life”, Clarke jokes.

According to the coaching staff, Ingles’ biggest struggle beyond domestic chores was the sheer workload, a shock to the majority of players given the demanding schedule. Alarms are set for around 6am, first practice beginning an hour later before buses take the youngsters to school at 8:30. During the day Ingles would return to the AIS, take part in an individual session led by Goriss, where skill refinement and one-on-one play was the focus. More classes at school would be followed by the longest practice of the day, a two-and-a-half hour window which would end 12 hours after the day had begun. Exhaustion at that point was inevitable yet irrelevant, for study hall was next. Only after that could one sleep.

That would be the norm five days a week, the sixth day consisting of either an hour of shooting and scrimmage or an actual game - the AIS compete in the South East Australian Basketball League, Australia’s second tier - with that afternoon and all of Sunday off.

After the first six weeks of this, Ingles was fried.

“Joe was doing weights and he was literally asleep”, Clarke says. “He was eating food and it was like watching those funny home videos of babies where their head plops straight into the spaghetti.”

Clarke went home and spoke to his sister, explaining how tired Ingles was. Before too long, it gave him an understanding that the AIS could not have a single programme that served everybody. He sent Ingles home for a long weekend of rest, and “it was almost like osmosis, not doing something but still learning”,

Ingles dealt with the workload far better on his return. Since then, the basketball programme there sends players home at different periods when coaches feel it is necessary.

“During that period, what Joe didn’t do was miss a session. He was struggling and it was hard, but he was durable, resilient, and he genuinely wanted to get better.”

Better, for the AIS coaches, meant three early targets of focus for Ingles: individual defensive footwork, shooting and physical development.

“He was a toothpick”, Goriss says. “What he needed to do more than anything was put on some size and weight.”

Ingles checked in around 72 kilos, very slender for a six foot seven inch athlete. “Pitifully thin”, Clarke describes him as being back then. All athletes at the AIS had access to a buffet-style canteen, open at all times for their benefit. Nothing in there was unhealthy, from fruits and salads to protein and pasta.

However, Lake Ginninderra College did put willpower to the test.

“Our school has a McDonald’s right across the road”, Walding says. “Joe, you would see him coming back with a shake or a Big Mac or whatever. He didn’t strike me as someone who would be watching every ounce of food that he put into his system.

“That was the nature of the guy, a relaxed Aussie type. Get out and enjoy himself, use the skills he has and not worry about the consequences of the small things that would not affect him too much.”

And they really did not. The message for Ingles was ‘never stop eating’, but learn to understand what a good idea is and what is not.

“He is never going to be Aron Baynes, but he doesn’t need to be”, adds Clarke.

But perhaps over time, a Baynes comparison became not as far off as Clarke may have thought. Wallace remembers his first drive against Ingles at a Barcelona practice in 2011. “I was expecting to easily slide into the middle and shoot a hook shot”, the forward says. “I hit Joe in the chest and he was just … hard.”

NBL Final - Dragons v Tigers: Game 1

The bond that Ingles and Dellavedova share is not uncommon between Boomers, especially for those who have attended the AIS. “It’s the first time they leave home and, I don’t know, maybe their first love”, Clarke says.

So while Ingles was not always calculated in his diet, his athletic ability was an undervalued and sometimes unnoticed trait, which supported a sound approach to the game.

“He picked my brain and wanted to listen”, Heal says of his time with Ingles at the NBL’s Newport South Dragons. “He had a demeanour that meant he did not always act like he was soaking things up, but he always was. You could not help but want the best for him.”

In allowing others to rub off on him, it should be noted that Ingles’s eating habits are far improved.

“He is definitely healthier these days, and I think his wife Renae [former Australian netball player] had something to do with that, being an elite athlete herself”, Dellavedova says.

“I would definitely take Baynesy over Joey on the BBQ though.”

Dellavedova’s Milwaukee Bucks teammate Thon Maker, who will make his Australian debut this summer, went to dinner with Ingles when the team were in Utah last season, and the three will often grab food at Dellavedova’s house when the Jazz come through Wisconsin.

“He is a caring dude”, Maker says. “Smart and funny, too. Joe will joke about anything.”

What is certainly not a joke is the state of Australian basketball. Their potential core heading into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo looks very competitive on paper, which includes a player in Ingles who has previously won gold at the 2011 and 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships. Given that he will be 32-years-old by the time Tokyo rolls around, it could possibly be his final tournament for the Boomers. The last 10 years have been described as a ‘golden generation’ for the sport and Australia’s representation in the NBA, and while that has been most recently apparent with Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers, “Joe was at the beginning of that”, Clarke says.

“There is nothing better than putting that green and gold on, and I know Joe feels the same way”, adds Dellavedova.

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At the AIS, Ingles was building bonds for life, and he would need them considering how difficult and lonesome starting a professional career can be. The real world, as it is often referred.

“If the Institute does not teach you anything else, it teaches you that you are on your own”, remarks Clarke. “When you become a professional, you have to make the right decisions by yourself.”

And so the AIS never held Ingles’s hand. They threw him into things that some would never think possible for a guy that many opponents in the NBA like to joke looks like a maths teacher.

“Joe can wrap his feet around his head”, Clarke proclaims.

That, in a nutshell, is the AIS model. If it connects to the game, they will try it.

We got Joe into meditation, yoga, pilates. We try to spread into all of those areas and see what works for different people. You cannot do things in isolation. The movement patterns for sliding and staying down on defence, for example, that discipline can be learned from martial arts. Being strong, on balance.

Clarke was very big on his players writing information down. He wanted those he trained to write in their notebooks two things a day that they did well so as to repeat good behaviours. From this, Clarke hoped they would ask themselves, ‘why do these guys think I am good?’

“Joe was terrible at writing things down, but that’s OK”, Clarke says.

“He was typically one of those where it was just, ‘give me the ball and let’s play’”, Goriss says. “Not in the way of, ‘I don’t want to do the diary and I don’t think it’s important’, but his priority was that he just wanted to play.”

And oh, did Goriss make him play.

He would have Ingles work through drills with multiple and smaller basketballs, tennis balls, running through moves with his eyes closed, anything that would challenge his vision, passing and timing of play.

It was all about Ingles maxing out the well-rounded talent Clarke saw back at the camp in southern Australia, and then implementing that into a game situation.

“He was the ‘Mr Fix It’ at the AIS”, Clarke says. “You could put him on anyone, you could play him at any position, you could post him up. We played him at the point, we played him at the four, anywhere in between. He could guard anything.”

Once Ingles had proven he could stay on the floor defensively, he had to make sure he was nailing the thing he knew best on the other end: shooting. Perfecting that would be a challenge. Goriss and Clarke noticed that Ingles dipped the ball down after he caught it - something he still has today in Utah, but less obviously - and a low shot release.

“I was trying to minimise the amount and the timing of the dip, but also for me the player has to feel comfortable because there has to be buy-in on their end”, Goriss says.

“We tried to shorten the shooting action up, and made sure he got the ball up and got it long”, Clarke adds.

Ingles, in addition to trying to remember the steps to a tweaked shooting motion, was all the while having thoughts of where he might go after his two years at the AIS were complete. The two obvious options were to either remain where he is and play professionally, or head to college in the States and be more exposed to NBA scouts.

“Joe just wanted to be a professional basketball player”, Walding says.

Ingles met all of his school requirements but was never in love with a particular subject or dreaming of at one point in the future suiting up for a college powerhouse such as Duke or North Carolina. Given his relaxed and laid-back demeanour, it did not concern Ingles that a lot of players around him were headed to the States.

“Once you close the college door, it is closed forever”, Clarke says. “You cannot go from a pro league back to college. Joe said, ‘yep, this is what I want to do’.”

Clarke’s response?

“Make sure you make the NBA through this pathway.”

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In a very roundabout way, Ingles made it happen.

Having left the AIS after two years, he first joined the NBL’s Newport South Dragons at 18, winning Rookie of the Year honours and then a championship three years later before the club folded. From there he journeyed through Spain with Granada and Barcelona, splitting that period with Summer League pit-stops for the Golden State Warriors, when Stephen Curry was not yet a star but starry-eyed. He won a EuroLeague title with Maccabi Tel-Aviv under David Blatt before a close call with Doc Rivers’s L.A. Clippers saw him almost signed and then waived while his wife Renae was flying from Australia to Los Angeles to be with him.

Ingles might have thought that was it as far as the NBA dream went. But Utah took a flyer on him in 2014. He is now a successful starter and at times the de facto backup point guard in head coach Quin Snyder’s system.

“He deserves everything that he gets and I am glad that people in the US are seeing everything that he can do with his game”, Dellavedova says. “He just knows how to play the right way.”

Ingles, as Walding suspected, was confident that he would become a professional after his graduation from the AIS, but he had no control over what became a very eventful beginning.

Searching for an NBL team, he first headed to Townsville in Queensland, where old friend and soon-to-be Boomers teammate Brad Newley was playing for the Crocodiles. Ingles and Newley attended Pasadena High School together in Adelaide - Ingles was in Newley’s sister’s class - so it doubled as a professional try-out and school reunion of sorts.

Ingles was only in eighth grade when he tried out for the senior team at Pasadena, and he quickly became a starter. “He was always pretty polite, loved sarcasm, took jokes and gave them out, which is why he blended in with the older kids”, Newley says. “He was pretty cheeky to opposition teams, as he is now, and had a high level of confidence. That is how you get far.”

With the Crocodiles, the pair were reunited with, like in school, Newley on the team and Ingles trying to make it. Ingles stayed with one of the coaches for the five days he was in town, but spent most of his time with Newley, hanging around at the 19-year-old’s apartment and being ferried to and from practices.

“I was pretty hopeless in the kitchen and around the house”, Newley says. “I would just take Joe to McDonald’s all the time. I reckon we hit four in one day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and we went back for an ice-cream.”

Despite the less-than-satisfactory but familiar cuisine, Ingles’s workouts were going well and it looked as if he would sign a professional contract. But while playing one-on-one together, Newley laid a spin move on Ingles and the latter’s foot went the other way, Ingles fracturing a metatarsal in the process.

“I thought I had ruined this guy’s career before he even got started”, Newley says.

The injury put a stop to any hopes the pair had of playing together. It turned out to be Newley’s last season during his first stint in the NBL, but he and Ingles would still face each other that season when Ingles eventually recovered and signed with the Dragons, a Melbourne-based franchise that only formed ahead of his debut in 2006.

An unlikely teammate of Ingles on that roster was also one of the most influential players in Australian basketball history, the aforementioned Shane Heal. He had just come out of retirement and was, conveniently, aligning with the inexperienced Ingles.

“His jump shot was all over the place”, Heal says of his first impressions of the youngster.

Heal had seen his fair share of shooting techniques during a two-decade career, which had taken him to the Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, domestically from the Geelong Supercats to the Sydney Kings, in Europe from Greece to Italy, and an illustrious Boomer stay that began at the infamous 1992 Games. He shared Clarke’s and Goriss’s beliefs that Ingles could be extremely good, recalling the times they were matched up in Dragons practice when he could barely enter a pass into the post because of Ingles’s length, but like the AIS coaches, Heal was hellbent on perfecting his shot.

When I first got him, he would take a catch-and-shoot jump shot and land a metre to his right every time. Just on a stand-up catch-and-shoot, and it used to drive me crazy. He would never hold his follow through either; he would just flick at the ball. I am sure when he went to bed he could hear my voice saying, ‘hold your follow-through, straight up and down’, and that season we literally got thousands and thousands of reps in to be able to get that right.

Heal still calls and texts with Ingles but back then, about the only thing they did was compete against each other.

“He was weak on the trash talk. He thought he was good and he really did not have much ammo. I still joke with him to this day that he has never beaten me in a three-point shooting contest.

“We played for pride. Joe lost a lot of pride a lot of the time.”

‘A lot’ is not an exaggeration. Ingles and Heal would shoot before and after practice sessions, often when no other player was around. Ingles lived in the back garden of the owner’s home, a man by the name of Mark Cowan, who according to Heal viewed Ingles as his “golden child”. Cowan afforded him a small one bedroom unit that lay at the back of the house and when he was hanging out there, Ingles would text Heal - ‘let’s get a session in'. The then-36-year-old, who would soon take over player coach duties for the South Dragons, would oblige.

“It kept me going, definitely”, Heal says. “Joe rejuvenated my passion and desire to do that work. It also inspired me to trash talk with him, to concentrate even more just to make sure the young bull never got a win.”

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Every time Ingles lost, he would get angry, garnering a similar outburst when he could not nail something in practice.

“If he could not do something, he would get frustrated very quickly. I remember some of the sessions that we did he would kick a ball that hard, because he could not control his emotions when things were not going his way.

“I tried to educate him and say, ‘mate, you have to let that go, you cannot kick a ball every time something does not go right’.”

The pair still joke about the relentlessness of the sessions today, the last words out of Heal’s mouth when they reunite invariably some form of, ‘Joe, hold your follow-through’. Heal, now a coach, also commentates on NBL games for FOX Sports Australia, and he has one particularly loyal viewer tuning in from Salt Lake City.

“I will be getting texts through from Joe as I am commentating and it’s always banter. I run a segment out here where I have a three-point shooting contest against the current NBL players and do an interview at the same time. Joe will often send me messages saying, ‘mate, you would never beat me now’.”

“It’s a really easy reply - 'mate, you have never beaten me, and you cannot change that’."

Ingles’s continued love for the NBL is one of the many examples of how passionate he is about basketball, and how he remains grounded and connected with those who helped him get this far.

“He just doesn’t strike you as the sort of guy who is going to go out and buy a Lamborghini”, Walding says. “He would be happy with his old beat-up Ford. He has not accepted fame, and good on him.”

Whatever he is driving, it often takes Ingles back to his roots. When Clarke’s Saint Mary’s teams play at BYU in Utah, depending on Ingles’s schedule he will still get in his car and head to the game.

“I think that speaks volumes about him”, Clarke says. “He does not have to do that, but when he can he will.”

Quite beautifully, Ingles was back playing for Clarke at the 2012 Olympics in London when his former coach was an assistant under Brett Brown, who now tells Ben Simmons what to do for the Philadelphia 76ers. During the London Games, Ingles was also back playing alongside Newley, the latter unsigned at club level and the former unhappy with his place on the depth chart in Barcelona.

“Head coach Xavier Pascual was a really good coach, but he also had his guys who he relied more on”, says Wallace, Ingles's Barcelona team mate at the time. “We had Juan Carlos Navarro, Pete Mickeal, Erazem Lorbek. I think Joe was better, more talented, but those guys were just veterans.”

“Despite the limited time, you could also say Barcelona put him on the radar”, Newley adds.

Regal FC Barcelona's forward Joe Ingles

The 2012 Olympics did that too, to a bigger degree.

“I think Joe realised in London that if he plays well, there may be some other things at the end of it”, Clarke says.

Newley says it was never a conversation between players to try and perform better against NBA stars at the Games, and although Ingles had a stand-out game in a loss against the USA in the quarter-finals - 19 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in 40 minutes against the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant - it was the final play of their fifth group game against Russia that opened his eyes to Ingles’s talent once again.

The Boomers were down one point with just over four seconds remaining, and Brown had drawn up an inbounds play involving three AIS alumni. Ingles received the ball in the right corner, and was waiting for Dellavedova to set a screen for Patty Mills at the top of the key. Mills got separation above the three-point line and Ingles, with his weaker left hand, flung a sharp and accurate one-handed pass to one of his closest friends while at the Institute, who hit a three to win the game.

“To see Joe execute that, I thought, ‘yeah, he is a next-level player’”, Newley says.

“I am sure the London Olympics was when the NBA started to show genuine interest”, Clarke adds.

As it were, Ingles remained with Barcelona for a third and final year.

“Joe and I came in as backups”, Wallace says. “If you play one or two bad games, the coach’s confidence in you takes much more of a dip over there, and you are held more accountable by stats.

“Joe is seven inches taller and stronger than Navarro, and I think he would probably win one-on-one. But Navarro was incredible. All of our players on Barcelona were really good. Practice time was invaluable to Joe, but that is why it was hard to build opportunities and confidence.”

Wallace and Ingles, along with Brazilian Marcelinho Huertas, called themselves the ‘L Team’, their favourite spot to eat being a sushi restaurant called Parco that they would dine at on Fridays. “If there are 14 lunch and dinners in a week, we would eat 10 of those together”, Wallace says.

Ingles, who could never fully build his confidence or have the influence on teammates in Barcelona that he has since shown in Utah, nevertheless had the ultimate strong finish while playing his last game for the club in a game five playoff loss to rivals Real Madrid.

“He had something like 28 points, shooting lights out, and it was kind of a ‘screw you for not playing me’ game”, Wallace says. “That is a great representation of Joe. He had an opportunity, had fought through adversity, and when he got his chance he just said, ‘hey, this is me’.

“He kind of told Barcelona that they had made a mistake by not playing him more.”

BASKET-EURL-BARCELONA-PANATHINAIKOS

Leaving the low minutes and sushi behind, Ingles concluded what would be his last stop in Europe in the best possible way by winning a EuroLeague title with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2014. Later that year, he had his close call with the Clippers, being the last cut in preseason, before the Jazz signed him.

He had finally made it to the NBA.

Kyle Goon, who covers the Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune, sees first-hand Ingles's comfort at the highest level. And it starts with making the opposition uncomfortable. Ingles, Goon says, “gets in opponent’s craws in this incredibly annoying and personal way. One of his attributes that you notice is he touches people. He is very touch-oriented.”

“He can get under people’s skin”, Clarke adds, “but it’s not in an overt way.”

“What annoys people more than most is he does not hold onto it, and he can laugh at you. Other people hold onto it. I don’t know whether he got that at the AIS, but it was certainly something we always coached; next job, next play.”

Ingles, during the Jazz’s playoff series with the Clippers in 2017, drained a three over DeAndre Jordan and spent the next few seconds staring down one of the more physically impressive players in the league.

“It was this weird image of the dad-looking Joe Ingles with the balding hair nailing the three in the face of Jordan, and then taunting the dude”, KSL.com’s Andy Larsen says. “It’s something I will never forget as a reporter.”

Ingles’s lack of fear is another trait that stacks up well against the awkward-looking image created for him. “He is competitive and not scared of playing anybody”, Dellavedova says.

It stems from a special confidence, one that leads to results you would perhaps not expect from someone who does not look or act like a prototypical NBA player.

“I never saw him put down a decent dunk”, Goriss chuckles. “I used to call him lazy. He never wanted to do it. The AIS guys used to tease him that he wasn’t a flashy dunker. Even in warm-ups, I don’t think he would throw down a dunk; he would just do the normal lay-ups and shoot threes. He did not want to waste too much energy.”

“His heart was always in the right place”, Heal says. “He did not disrupt other people or thought he was better than he was. He was just that lovable larrikin.”

It remains a big part of his life today, one that is centred around his twin daughters, Jacob and Milla, and wife Renae, who feature very regularly on his Instagram feed. Ingles was in Melbourne to witness the birth of his ‘Twingles’ in July of 2016, and 36 hours later was on a flight to South America for the Rio Olympics.

“The family pictures show who he is”, Maker says, as does his approach with Dante Exum, who some believe was a factor in the Jazz originally signing Ingles so as to nurture yet another AIS-turned-NBA starlet.

Exum’s young career has been ravaged by injuries and when he sustained yet another one at the beginning of this past season, Ingles welcomed him into his family home while his teammate waited for his family to arrive from Australia. By now, everyone has seen the picture of a young Exum wearing an Ingles Dragons jersey, his elder statesman at one point in time his favourite player, and while the latter will never let him forget it, when things get serious, he cares more than most.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz - Game Four

One year after the London Olympics, Steve Walding walked into King O’Malley’s Irish pub in Canberra expecting nothing more than a quiet pint. Unlikely as it was, he soon bumped right into Ingles, Dellavedova, Dave Andersen and Newley - guys he taught - sharing beers and banter around a table.

“All Boomers, all Lake Ginninderra boys”, Walding says proudly. The Australian team had just finished their last day of camp and were winding down. At this stage, Ingles had not yet cracked the NBA, and Andrew Bogut was the player carrying the flag for Australia.

“They were all joking around and talking about Bogut and how much money he was earning. Joe was saying, ‘Bogut is in another league, he has got money that we can only dream about’.”

Four years later, Ingles signed a four-year, $52m deal with the Jazz.

The first year of that deal was this past season, one the Jazz warmed up for with an exhibition game against the NBL’s Sydney Kings. It was to be the beginning of Ingles’s best season as an NBA player, one in which he averaged 11.5 points - his first double digit campaign in the US - 4.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and a clinical 44% from three.

What better way than to start it against a team from Australia. And on the Kings and making the trip? None other than Brad Newley.

Once settled in Salt Lake, Newley called Ingles and asked if he could pick him up from his hotel.

“It was basically the same old same old. He was wearing his Chuck Taylor’s, his jeans and his black hat which he always wears”, Newley says.

Same style, maybe, but the roles had reversed. Ingles was driving Newley in his car, back to his house, and they were not heading for the drive-through.

The biggest sign of how much life had changed; Ingles’s wife Renae cooked steak and fresh vegetables, putting a bow on their fast food days.

The Aussies shot the breeze until midnight, reminiscing about the special and comical moments that had delivered them to this point in time. Newley was not complaining that the food had changed but better still, Joe Ingles, having proven his worth as a basketball player, looked and remained the same.

Except he wasn't. The awkward-looking underdog was now in the NBA.