Joe Ingles sat down in front of a Utah Jazz logo backdrop on Sunday morning, sweaty from a just-concluded practice, notably adorned by a solid-blue headband.
And right on cue, a few minutes into his latest media session came the inevitable question: Is “Headband Joe” back for good?
“My hair’s been so luxurious and long that I was just trying to keep it out of my eyes today,” he deadpanned in response.
Ingles was apparently in a playful mood Sunday, as evidenced by him pulling in teammate Royce O’Neale for a side-by-side headband comparison; later reappearing to interrupt a question to O’Neale about Donovan Mitchell in order to remind everyone that Ingles and Team Australia beat Mitchell and Team USA 98-94 in a World Cup tune-up game in August 2019; and a video from the Jazz of a post-practice dunk session among several players in which Ingles tosses the ball off the backboard, grabs it in midair, cocks it back for a hammer dunk … and then pulls up and lands a couple feet short, laughing hysterically and shaking his head at the sheer ridiculousness of him pulling something like that off.
He’s serious enough about the job they’re all there for, though, that he can afford to have a few moments of levity in between.
Asked what he’s hoping to get out of the team’s upcoming “preseason” scrimmages, which will kick off this Thursday against the Suns, the forward said first and foremost, he’s looking forward to facing someone other than teammates. Furthermore, he added, it’ll be good to get a feel for what kind of progress the team has made since convening in Orlando.
“The most obvious one is just getting out there and playing. Getting game time, getting through our stuff — the new stuff we put in, getting on the same page with the old stuff and how we were already playing,” Ingles said. “For us, we’ve played a lot here within the practices, but it’s always different when you’re playing against your team, against the guys you play with every day. It would be nice to play someone different. … It’ll be good for us to get out there against a different group of guys, get through some stuff. Obviously, you find out what’s working, what’s not.”
Among the “new stuff” the Jazz have put in are schemes designed to account for the absence of second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic, many of which reportedly will entail a focus on pushing the pace with greater frequency and firing up shots earlier in the clock.
How, though, came the inevitable query, will that work considering that Bogdanovic was Utah’s most prolific finisher of transition opportunities?
The Aussie suggested it wouldn’t be unexpected to see a lot of lineups going forward in which centers Rudy Gobert and Tony Bradley are flanked by a four-man group in which “everyone can handle, everyone can push, everyone can rebound the ball.
“I think for us, pushing the ball and then shooting early 3s — good 3s, but early 3s — can be something that we can be really effective in, because like I said, with those lineups, we’ve got pretty consistent shooters throughout,” Ingles said. “I don’t know how many times this season prior to this [hiatus] that we were probably all on the same page in the same game and all shooting well. I think if we can get to a point where everything’s free-flowing and we’re all shooting well, I think we can be a really dangerous team playing like that.”
O’Neale, who is shooting 38.9% from deep thus far this season, was in agreement with that strategy.
“Us playing fast, trying to use that to our advantage,” he said. “We just got to make sure we space out, create driving lanes for everybody else, keep getting open 3s, drive-and-kicks.”
Ingles, meanwhile, would go on to answer more serious questions — about Rudy Gobert’s chances at a claiming a third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award (“Do I think he’s the best defensive player in the league? Absolutely.”); about the first three days’ worth of scrimmages reportedly being played with 10-minute quarters (“I’ve played 10-minute quarters a lot in my life, so for me it won’t be too different.”); and about the possibility of wife Renae and twins Jacob and Milla eventually joining him in Orlando should the Jazz make it past the first round of the playoffs (“Every option, scenario will be thrown out there.”).
But it was his discussion of his headband that most stood out.
The legend of “Headband Joe” was born in November 2018 when Ingles suffered a cut above his eye in a game against the Grizzlies, departed for a few minutes to get stitched up, and re-emerged a short time later with a white gauze “headband” that became a viral sensation. Jazz fans have been clamoring for him to don a headband full-time ever since.
Ingles noted he began periodically wearing them again a short time ago when he found himself working out in the Zions Bank Basketball Campus practice facility at the same time as Mike Conley, who has won them throughout his career. That prompted Ingles to put one on in jest. He’d only planned to wear it for a short time, but Jazz executive vice president Dennis Lindsey emerging from his office overlooking the ZBBC courts to mock Ingles about how terrible he looked changed the plan.
“I was like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna keep wearing it then if Dennis hates that much,’” Ingles explained.
As for the odds he wears one in a game? He was initially dismissive, then offered an almost immediate volte-face under the right conditions.
“The chance I play in it is very small,” Ingles said. “But if I play with it in a scrimmage and I play a good game, I can promise you it will be here to stay.”