Fifth in a series.
Two years ago, Brandon Ingram was merely the top Class of 2015 prospect in the state of North Carolina. As we head into the upcoming season, Brandon Ingram could be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
How did we get here so fast?
Back in 2013, a 15-year-old Ingram - sporting less hair and fewer tattoos, yet still skinny and still really good at basketball - attended the NBPA Top 100 camp and didn't exactly dominate the competition. According to reports, Ingram only showed flashes of his potential against a group of stars with a slight edge in age and a noticeable advantage in strength.
Even so, that potential was enough for a number of high major schools (North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest, among others) to offer Ingram a scholarship. After all, the sophomore wing had already led his Kinston (NC) team to two consecutive state championships. And with Jerry Stackhouse serving as his mentor (as well as his AAU coach), it was safe to assume that bigger and better things were ahead.
State title No. 3 came at the end of Ingram's junior season, and instead of battling against high-profile recruits on the traditional AAU circuit last summer, Ingram chose to join Kinston for the inaugural adidas Unrivaled event in Chicago.
On the first day of the camp, Ingram's Kinston squad got the best of Jaylen Brown's Wheeler (GA) team, and Ingram would finish the weekend with the tournament's MVP award. Evan Daniels of Scout.com was on hand for the event, and based on his assessment, it was clear that Ingram's individual two-a-day workouts with his father were beginning to pay dividends:
"That performance really stood out in my mind. He's a long, wiry combo forward that can really score. ... He was making jump shots. He was going off the bounce and hitting floaters. He showed great touch with his finishing moves around the basket.
"Physically, he's not strong. And that hurts him to a degree. But he's so long and he's really starting to get a lot more comfortable handling the ball and going off the dribble."
Saying that Ingram is "long" and "wiry" is an understatement of historic proportions. To paraphrase the great Allen Iverson, Ingram takes "bony as hell" to all new levels. Ingram has a build (or lack thereof) reminiscent of Kevin Durant and/or Tayshaun Prince, and at 6'9" and just 196 pounds, Ingram's first order of business once he settles in down at Durham is to find his way to the weight room.
Yet even now, Ingram's athleticism and ridiculous 7'3" wingspan are traits that set him apart from his peers. He's quick enough to get past virtually anyone guarding him on the perimeter, and long enough to shoot over those that he can't. Once he puts on a few pounds, he should be a menace defensively, thanks in large part to good footwork and a standing reach that's in excess of 9 feet.
His physical tools and diverse skill set has vaulted him to the head of the pack: After Ingram reportedly dominated the practices leading up to this year's McDonald's All-American Game, Daniels said that the Duke freshman has "as much upside as anyone in this class."
"He's basically a big guy playing the wing," said Cal freshman Ivan Rabb, Ingram's teammate on the McDonald's All-American West team. "He uses his length to his advantage. He might be on the left side of the rim and finish on the right side. He uses that length, and a lot of times you can't really react to it because he's so long."
Ingram was one of the few players in this year's McDonald's Game who hadn't already made his college decision. The 2015 Parade All-American said that he was "pretty much sold on" attending UNC (Stackhouse's alma mater) before a messy academic scandal exploded onto the front pages last summer. And with UNC out of the race, another school on Tobacco Road - Duke - was able to close the deal on one of the state's most talented basketball players in recent memory.
The reigning North Carolina Mr. Basketball has plenty of expectations to live up to this season, and he doesn't sound like one to shy away from the spotlight. Ingram said that one of the main reasons he joined the Blue Devils was to learn under the watchful eye of head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has brought two national titles to Durham in the past six years.
There was one point in his basketball career where Ingram (who finished his senior year with yet another state title) toiled in relative anonymity. That's clearly no longer the case these days, though "potential" is still the word most associated with Duke's newest five-star recruit.
The difference now is that Ingram is no longer a gangly 15-year-old basketball prodigy who is learning how to adapt to his quickly growing frame. Instead, he's a top-ranked prospect who figures to turn his potential in something far more tangible once he makes the leap to the NBA.