For the first time in a long time, Gary Inglett is enjoying basketball again.
The former Plainview All-Stater is coming off his best season of collegiate ball, in his first year at Murray State. He's on his way to an associate's degree. He has a loving family and a chance to take his basketball career to another level.
All of this didn't seem possible just two years ago, when Inglett's first season at Redlands Community College coincided with the birth of his first child. Basketball took a backseat to his daughter Marley being born with three congenital heart defects.
Inglett was all of 19 years old at the time, away from home and struggling to balance life on the court with real-life survival.
"I really wasn't focused on playing basketball," said Inglett, now 21. "I was really more worried about what was happening to her."
Marley was subjected to three months at St. Francis Children's Hospital in Tulsa where she had three surgeries — all while Inglett played out his first season at Redlands in a cloud.
But with Marley's gradual recovery and a transfer closer to home, Inglett has had a breakout year.
The 6-foot-6 swingman brought his family to Murray State in Tishomingo, where he flourished in his only season with the Aggies. At Murray, under the tutelage of former Oklahoma State player Randy Rutherford, Inglett said the transition was easier on the court than off.
"It was getting back on track with my school," Inglett said of the toughest transition from Redlands to Murray. "At Redlands, I didn't get that opportunity because my daughter was sick."
The no-nonsense Rutherford said it took time for Inglett to adjust, but that Inglett's family unit — wife Jamy and now 2 1/2-year-old Marley — played a large role in his development into a better player and person.
"That makes a big difference in how Gary has grown and matured as an adult," Rutherford said of Inglett's wife and daughter.
Because of eligibility rules after his transfer from Redlands to Murray State, Inglett was only able to play a half season at Murray. In that time, however, he was arguably the biggest impact player for the Aggies.
Inglett averaged a team-best 17.6 points per game and was second on the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. Murray State ended a 15-14 season in February with a loss to Northeastern Oklahoma in the first round of the National Junior College Athletics Association Region 2 Tournament, but Inglett made his mark in limited time.
He's also expanded his game since his Plainview days. The 2010 Plainview graduate primarily opperated in the post for the Indians, but has played shooting guard and small forward in college. He finished the year hitting 74 percent from the free-throw line and 38 percent from 3-point range to go along with 2.3 assists per contest.
Page 2 of 2 - With Inglett's game coming together for Murray, Rutherford said he only wanted one more thing out of his burgeoning star.
"I'd like to have him for another year," Rutherford joked. "I think Gary had a good year considering not playing for a year and a half, and I was very impressed with his progress playing under me."
Rutherford said he thought the half season with Murray was the most fun Inglett's had playing basketball in a while. Inglett agreed, and is excited at the prospect of continuing his career with two more years of eligibility.
Inglett has fielded offers from a series of schools, among them Division I Northern Colorado and North Texas, as well as local outfits like Central Oklahoma and Southeastern Oklahoma State.
Wherever he ends up, he'll be playing ball — his mind free, his family healthy, his future wide open — maybe even globally.
"If I get the shot to take care of my family, I'll go overseas," he said. "It's all based on my family and what's best for them."
Follow Horne on Twitter: @ekhorneARD