There’s something that’s been lost in the sea of hoopla that surrounded Jason Kidd’s dramatic arrival in Milwaukee.
For years, Milwaukee Bucks fans have complained about a lack of explosive, athletic wing talent with potential. Before last season, was there really a prospect Milwaukee had at the two or the three to be all that optimistic about since Michael Redd’s ascension from second round pick to NBA All-Star? Joe Alexander flamed out. Aside from him, the teams shuffled in a collection of veteran cast-offs over the years in Bobby Simmons, Richard Jefferson, John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Monta Ellis. Never was there a young fella to be optimistic about.
The pendulum has swung in the other direction. Hard.
Milwaukee’s core is now built around a pair of 19-year-olds — Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo – that can bounce between a variety of positions. In an increasingly positionless NBA, versatile forwards that can handle the ball, pass and shoot seem invaluable. The Bucks certainly seem to think so, as there’s a third teammate who hopes to join the two building blocks soon, literally and figuratively, in a couple of cities where being under 21 is just no fun.
“I leave on Saturday for Vegas. I’m going to Vegas to join the team,” the teenager said via a phone interview from France. “Then I’m moving to Milwaukee right after the Summer League.”
Damien Inglis won’t suit up for the Bucks in the Las Vegas Summer League. The 6’9″, 240 lb. swingman from French Guyana broke his foot in June, three weeks before the Bucks chose him with first pick of the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, the 31st pick overall. But Inglis hopes to be healthy enough to start training and playing basketball again in about six weeks, a timetable that would have him healed long before the team’s preseason camp tips off in early October.
The road to getting drafted was a long and arduous one for the young man from Cayenne, French Guyana. Inglis, who speaks four languages (French, English, French Guyanese Creole, and Spanish), says that he picked up a basketball for the first time when he was 9 years old. Just five years later, he traveled 4400 miles and an ocean away to Paris, France to begin honing his professional craft.
Inglis entered the INSEP (Institut National du Sport et de l’Éducation Physique), a state-run secondary school and training center for elite athletes that counts Tony Parker and Boris Diaw among its former pupils. The move to the French mainland was not an easy one for him.
“I was by myself. I left French Guyana when I was 14 years old,” Inglis said. “My family was far and I had to play basketball. It was cold, it was tough. I was family-sick, homesick. But I really wanted to make it, so that’s why I kept going.”
In addition to moving halfway around the globe, he was faced with the challenge of playing against much older competition.
“When I got to Paris, I was playing against students that were older than me, so I had to take it up to another level to be at the same level as the others.”
A year ago, Inglis moved on from INSEP to the French Pro A League, the country’s top professional basketball league. There, playing for Roanne, he averaged 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game while playing 15.3 minutes per contest. He shot nearly 50% from the field and connected on 39% of his three-pointers. (Note: The FIBA three-point distance used in Europe sits about halfway between the shorter distance used by the NCAA and the longer one used by the NBA.)
Inglis counts rebounding, passing, and defense — especially on-ball defense — among his strengths. He says he wants to continue to work on his shooting and offense, but if he keeps shooting as well as he did in Roanne and if he continues to penetrate, pass, and finish at the rim with either hand, he may not have so far to go in those areas either.
Inglis is also flexible when it comes to finding the right position for his skill set in the NBA.
“I don’t really have a position. My game is all-arround, you know? Sometimes I play the 3, sometimes I play the 2. I already played the 1, but I’m not saying I’m a point guard — I’m not a point guard — but I already played 1. 4 and 5? I’ve played 4 and 5 too, for just a couple of minutes. But I’d have to say my position is the 2 or 3.”
Inglis won’t be the only player from French Guyana in the NBA this season. Washington Wizards center Kevin Seraphim, also hails from Cayenne, the capital city and home of 60,000 residents.
“It’s a small city,” Inglis said. “They like basketball, so when I got drafted, everyone was happy for me. Everybody wished me good luck. Most of them want to come to Milwaukee and watch a game and visit the city at the same time, so I think Milwaukee is going to be one of the destinations for people from French Guyana.”
Inglis also said that at the time of his drafting, he was familiar with the team. After watching the NBA for a decade, Inglis says, “Milwaukee is a team that I know.”
But the Bucks weren’t the home of Inglis’ favorite NBA player growing up. “It’s funny because we don’t play the same position, but Shaquille O’Neal was my favorite player.”
And then a reminder that Inglis is a teenager, one who was just 11 years old in 2006.
“He was my favorite player when he was in Miami.”