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'That's still my guy': Jazz express disappointment on barely missing Joe Ingles' return

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MILWAUKEE — Joe Ingles still hasn't stopped talking.

Ingles' familiar grin and laugh was prevalent as he and some Utah Jazz players and staff greeted each other before Saturday's game in Milwaukee.

He joked with Mike Conley, dabbed up Jordan Clarkson, and, surprisingly, had a long conversation with new Jazz coach Will Hardy (the two met through Australian guard Patty Mills, who Hardy coached on the San Antonio Spurs).

There was no conversations during the game — the type of talk that Ingles has become famous for in his NBA career — but those were close to happening, too. Ingles is set to return from the ACL tear he suffered in his final game for the Utah Jazz on Monday — two days after his old team was in town.

"He may be a little scared," Clarkson said when asked if he was disappointed Ingles' return didn't come a game sooner. "Nah, it's good to see him back. … I'm just happy that he's gonna be back on the floor. It's a great situation for him; I'm excited for him."

Conley expressed surprise that Ingles is close to getting back, which was pretty much the universal feeling when it was reported on Friday he was near a return. Why the slight shock? Well, because it's pretty quick when it comes to NBA standards — 11 months is the fastest an NBA player has returned from an ACL tear since 2014.

Some of that has to do with a season's timing, no doubt, but it's still an impressive feat from Ingles.

"I didn't know he was so close to being back," Conley said. "I'm happy that he's progressed like that."

Conley, obviously, wished his old teammates' first game back was against the Jazz, but just getting to catch up in person was still a nice substitute. Conley has missed having the old jokester around.

"The players and the staff, he was constantly giving everybody every word he had," Conley said. "Everybody loves him for that. He was an honest person and came in every day the same guy. To be a teammate to a guy like that was pretty cool."

Clarkson feels the same way.

"His toughness, (trash) talking, I love it," Clarkson said. "In the second unit, he was our point guard, so him always setting me up for plays, and just our friendship off the court. I'd go to his house a lot, eat, chill with him, Renae (Ingles' wife), the kids — just miss all those times. That's still my guy."

The things that made Ingles so beloved in Utah have already started to resonate in Milwaukee, too. The Bucks expected Ingles to bring much of what he brought to Utah's playoff teams, but even they are surprised at how quickly he's been an influence to the team, especially since he has yet to play a game.

"His energy and his voice, in the NBA — whether it's the beginning of the season, the middle — you just need guys that can bring something," Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. "He can get on guys, he can talk to them, talk to the coaches a little bit. He's just another voice and a guy that can bring some fresh ideas.

"Him integrating into the locker room and developing friendships and relationships before he even hit the court, I don't know if I've seen a guy do that the way he has without playing."

And very soon, Ingles will get to play again, just not soon enough to play his old team — at least not until the Bucks make the trip to Salt Lake City in March.

There will no doubt be plenty of talking then, too.

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