DECATUR — The words from his father kept playing through Ron Ingram's mind. When things were tough in the early portion of the MacArthur boys basketball season, Ingram kept hearing the same phrase.
"It's always worse at first, but it's going to get greater later."
Ingram knew this year's Generals would need on-the-fly training and to gain experience as the season progressed. His plan was always to be a better basketball team at the end of the year, as his players grew and settled into their roles.
The Generals started the season 3-6, and that included a four-game losing streak in December. Ingram knew his players were hearing criticism, and it gave credence to the thought MacArthur would have a down year after losing a talented senior class that included Amir and Armon Brummett.
Ingram didn't fret and his players didn't waver in their faith that they would have a good season.
MacArthur ended up righting the ship, finishing 19-14 and coming within one questionable foul call from winning a regional championship. For that, Ingram is the Herald & Review Macon County boys basketball Coach of the Year for the first time.
“I really thought we were going to reload and get better as the season went on because we had the right type of players that we could — some people call it rebuilding with — but the right type of players we thought we could reload with and continue on as we did from last year," Ingram said.
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Still, even in the midst of a slow start, Ingram had to find a way to connect with his players. He and his coaching staff tried talking them through the mistakes; the turnovers or not playing for a full four quarters. He wasn't getting the response he desired. He tried showing the players clips of the problems, taking a visual approach with his team. That resonated.
The team openly talked about being expected to be down after losing so much talent from last year — it happens to the best programs across the state. Ingram didn't want the team to be that. Ingram came to Decatur from Peoria Manual, where he was an assistant, and brought over a culture from Manual — a team that has perennially gone on deep postseason runs. It's a culture of winning that Ingram believes is now installed in his program.
With every loss, Ingram went to work the next day with the previous game in the past. He went through film to see where his team could improve and where he could exploit other teams' weaknesses. He stayed the course and leaned on legendary former Manual coach Dick Van Scyoc and current Manual coach Willie Coleman. But he also stayed in house and sought the advice of assistant coach Tarise Bryson. Ingram respects Bryson and his legacy as a Decatur basketball player.
More than anything, Bryson didn't give up on Ingram's style of coaching. There were adjustments in the system to maximize the talent on the team, but never a full-scale overhaul. In fact, Bryson — who Ingram made sure to bring on the staff when he was hired — gave Ingram a Decatur stamp of approval.
“Coach Ingram is a guy who has a lot of patience," Bryson said. "He works real hard with the guys. A lot of people around don’t give him enough credit."
Finally there came turning points. Ingram saw a shift in his team in two games against Chatham Glenwood. The first game was on Jan. 25 and the second came on Feb. 5. They were both losses, but he had the undivided attention of his team. No longer were players' eyes wandering during timeouts. They were locked in on the game plan. Each Glenwood loss was followed by a win. Ingram could see the tide turning in those games and later in a loss to a strong Class 4A Danville team.
“Those three games really showed me that these guys can play the game of basketball and we’re going to turn the season around," he said.
Said Bryson: “He never gave up on the team."
In his fifth year at MacArthur, Ingram has a Manual-like culture in place. Basketball is a central part of many of the players' lives. There's an expectation for the Generals to win. They talk about reaching the state tournament. It's not unlike what Ingram experienced when he was at Manual.
“Being at Manual, we knew that every year we wanted to win and we wanted to be at the top," Ingram said. "That’s kind of the mentality I had coming into MacArthur, also. When people thought we were going to be so bad, I really always thought we were going to be a good basketball team."
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25