The Ann Arbor News, Dec. 29, 2001

Ingerson work ethic as prodigious as his mouth
Prep coach, others recount U-M freshman's two personalities - the on-court and off-court.
News Sports Reporter

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Jeff Lavender traditionally runs a drill designed to improve the shooting skills of players on the Santa Barbara High School basketball team.

He starts them fairly close to the basket and tells them to start firing off jump shots. When a player makes seven of 10, he tells him to back up a step or two.

About two years ago, a 16-year-old named Dommanic Ingerson came to town.

A supremely talented combo guard from inner-city Oakland, Ingerson had moved to the upper middle-class community to improve his chances as both a basketball player and a gifted student who a year earlier had scored above 1100 on his SATs without studying. Participating in the drill for the first time, the high-school junior tossed up a soft floater that silently swished through the net.

Again. Again. And again.

He kept moving back.

Ingerson finally wound up on the "S" - the last letter in the words "Santa Barbara Dons" written along the sidelines of the court, or about 26 feet away from the basket. Did that faze the 6-foot-3 combo guard? No. He sank nine in a row from that spot.

"He wanted to keep going back," Lavender said. "I said 'no, that's it. The "S" is your limit.'"

Ingerson, the blossoming freshman star of the University of Michigan basketball team, plays in California tonight for the first time since his prep days. Shooting a sizzling 58.8 percent from 3-point range and averaging 12.4 points a game, second-best on the team, Ingerson could once again be the big story as the Wolverines (4-4) take on the University of San Francisco (3-7) in the first game of the Pete Newell Challenge at the Oakland Arena.

Ingerson's return to his hometown was still a few days away as Lavender sat in his gym, watching Santa Monica play Saugus in the opening game of the 16-team Santa Barbara Holiday Classic. Behind one of the baskets are the framed jerseys of Santa Barbara alums and former NBA stars Jamaal Wilkes and Don Ford. One day, Ingerson's No. 21 may find itself on the wall.

Two years ago, led by Ingerson, the 27-3 Dons won 20 in a row and went all the way to the state quarterfinals. This season, the 5-7 Dons are struggling.

Lavender remembers all of his run-ins with his star: Ingerson was suspended from the team twice last season because of on-court antics that included taunting other players and wiping a ball on his forehead before handing it to the referee. He forced Ingerson to go into counseling and even had Ingerson's mother, who raised her son alone, move down from Oakland to control him better. Once, when Ingerson violated Lavender's no facial hair policy by showing up at a game with a slight goatee, the coach handed Ingerson a razor and told him to shave it off. He also had a no tattoo policy -- and is bemused by a new decoration on one of Ingerson shoulders that says "Me Against the World," a phrase that Ingerson says summarizes his on-court attitude.

But Lavender is anything but against Ingerson.

"Dom's very lovable. He's a great kid… Nobody plays with more heart and soul than Dom. He had problems. But nobody wanted to win more than Dom," Lavender said. "We're average this year because we miss his fire and intensity."

• • •

Dave Meisler can only imagine what it was like for Dommanic Ingerson to suddenly find himself in Santa Barbara, a seaside community of 86,000, 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

In Oakland, Ingerson had been surrounded by poverty and urban blight. Suddenly, thanks to an aunt who lived in Santa Barbara, he was going to an affluent public school where movie stars sent their kids. A school that counts Charles Schwab, Martha Graham, Randall Cunningham and former U.S. Senator Gary Hart among its graduates. A school with a gorgeous 40-acre campus, nestled in the sun-blessed Santa Ynez mountains, where palm trees stand next to a restored 76-year-old main building that resembles a stately Spanish mansion. A school where Audis, Volvos and BMWs can almost always be found in the parking lot.

Meisler, a teacher at the school, said Ingerson never seemed completely comfortable in this environment. Most classmates, perhaps mindful of his background and his unpredictable antics on the court, never embraced him as one of their own.

"He didn't have anybody to talk to," said Meisler, who had Ingerson in a government class. "The other kids thought he was weird. So some teachers took over that role."

Ingerson did better than anybody expected at Santa Barbara. Despite differing accounts of his academic habits (Lavender said he had the best attendance among all his players, while others report frequently seeing Ingerson outside school when he should have been in class), Ingerson's grade-point average exceeded 3.0 during his two years in Santa Barbara. His poem about his former life in inner-city Oakland, "The Other Side of the Street," was published in the local alternative publication.

"He's a very compassionate kid," Meisler said. "He always wanted to please people and do the right thing."

• • •

During Michigan's 88-58 romp over Eastern Michigan Dec. 22, Ingerson scored 19 points. After sinking one of his 3-pointers, Ingerson pointed his finger upwards in celebration and shook his hips. The display caused U-M coach Tommy Amaker to reprimand Ingerson during a subsequent timeout.

"It's a delicate balance," Amaker said. "We're not trying to put a wet towel on his emotions, but he's not the player right now that can afford mental lapses. Going from one play to the next and the concentration, it takes time for him and he struggles with that."

Kerry Russell knows about Ingerson's struggles to keep his emotions in check. A senior backup guard for Santa Barbara, Russell said Ingerson would pound his jersey or taunt an opponent after nearly every basket, even at practice. The displays were tolerated at first - part of the deal of playing with a future star - but things got worse after Ingerson returned to Santa Barbara for his senior year. Ingerson had just found out how good he was, having played against future Division I standouts and NBA draft picks at several AAU summer camps. He also was no longer living with his aunt, but with his coach. The antics became even more pronounced, finally exploding in the two separate incidents that earned him suspensions. After the second brow-wiping incident, Lavender had Ingerson write what Russell considered to be a heart-felt apology and read it to the team.

"It was pretty nice," Russell said.

• • •

Mwei Banks got to know Ingerson well during his two years in Santa Barbara. Banks is the athletic director of the Santa Barbara Boys & Girls Club - right across the street from the high school. Every Sunday night, Ingerson would show up for pickup games at the gym. Banks took an immediate liking to the new boy in town, whom he described as "very
intelligent and very respectful" when he wasn't playing.

Ingerson's quiet personality changed when he took to the court. The stream of verbal jabs and boasts were constant. But then Ingerson would back up all that trash-talking with his breath-taking play. Then, after the game was over, Ingerson begged Banks to allow him to shoot baskets past its closing hour.

"He was an awesome talent," Banks said. "I loved watching him play."

Bank, himself a prep basketball coach, said he was more understanding than most about Ingerson's troubles last year. And he's glad that Amaker, who didn't recruit Ingerson but flew to California to meet the highly touted freshman shortly after he was given the Michigan job last March, has taken a liking to his one-time Sunday night regular.

"He was a superstar in a small town - he was above and beyond Santa Barbara High School," Banks said.

"I'm very pleased and happy that he's doing so well. It makes him look good and makes us as a town look good."