Nehemiah Ingram couldn’t be more thrilled right now, even though playing for coach John Chaney includes putting up with his shrieking. To Ingram, it’s better being on the bench as a player than as a spectator in the stands.
Those who attended Temple games last year probably never noticed the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Ingram. But this season he’s finally getting his long-awaited opportunity after sitting out the last two years for academic reasons.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this a very long time, so I’ve been very anxious and when I got the opportunity I stepped up to the plate.”
As a starter or coming off the bench, Ingram has made his presence felt on the floor and, at times, have left opponents there as well. Last Wednesday against St. Bonaventure, he played the best game of his career with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Far from being a reliable scorer, Ingram throws his weight around, grabs rebounds and has caused trouble at the top of Chaney’s 1-3-1 rover defense for opposing teams. Despite his big size, Ingram moves swiftly across the floor.
“When we have to get some rebounding in a game, David [Hawkins] comes over to the bench and says we need to get Nehemiah in there, so he’s pretty reliable,” assistant coach Dan Leibovitz said.
Ingram, who is from Milledgeville, Ga., impressed Leibovitz with his ability to go after the ball. Ingram admitted he only started playing basketball when he entered the ninth grade. Baldwin High School basketball coach James Lunsford insisted Ingram not waste his size and athleticism.
By Ingram’s senior year he was getting scholarship offers from Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Temple. His stock increased after he performed well at Five-Star, a basketball camp for the top high school talent in the country. At the end of the camp Ingram was selected to the All-Star Game, where he dominated the inside and earned the Best Rebounder award.
Uncertain about what school to pick, Ingram paid a visit to Temple. After attending a game and speaking with Chaney, who is friends with Lunsford, Ingram felt good about coming here.
“I wanted to play with someone somewhat similar to my high school coach,” Ingram said. “He’s [Chaney] a little bit tougher than my high school coach. My high school coach yelled at me a lot, but not as much as Chaney, and his voice isn’t as high as Chaney’s.”
However, there was a caveat for Ingram. He missed college eligibility requirements by one class. Ingram contemplated transferring to a junior college, but Lunsford thought it would be better he stay close to Chaney.
“So I came along and ended up sitting my first year, but I didn’t think it would end up being two, though,” Ingram said.
Last year during winter break Ingram was expected to see his first action of his career against Indiana. But he was ineligible – again.
Ingram was crushed.
“It was kind of like somebody picking you up and then just dropping you at the highest point,” Ingram said.
“I think he was embarrassed and he knew he had let himself down and let us down,” Leibovitz said. “Coach just never stopped being positive with him. I think that really saved him [Nehemiah]. Had he handled it a different way and come down on him, who knows, he may have given up on himself.”
When his mother found out the bad news, she sent Ingram a card that he said was “inspirational.”
“It kind of made me shed a tear,” he said.
Now Ingram, a Criminal Justice major, is making the grade and producing on the court. His top goal is to graduate on time. If he does, he can then petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility.
He’s started four games whenever Chaney has wanted a bigger lineup, but is usually the team’s first guy off the bench. Ingram averages three points and four rebounds, while playing an average of 18 minutes a game. He leads the squad with 48 offensive rebounds and isn’t shy about keeping opposing players out of the paint.
“His role is to rebound, screen, be a presence defensively, and when he does that it makes our job a lot easier,” guard David Hawkins said. “He throws his body around, throws elbows, no easy lay-ups, stuff like that. And that’s what we need a couple more people to do.”
Ingram said his teammates call him “soft-hearted” because of his lax southern personality. But on the court Ingram is a different person.
Last Saturday, Saint Joseph’s frail forward David Mallon got a taste of Ingram’s physical play. After Ingram snared a rebound, the two got tangled together. As Ingram dished off the outlet pass, he sent Mallon to the floor with a forearm.
On his rebounding style Ingram said, “I try to go to the weak side and get under the basket and push the guy [guarding me] as far under the basket as I can and let the ball bounce off the rim into my hands.”
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.