The middle schooler always wanted to be part of the action. He sat in the high school gym during his older brother’s practices, carefully eyeing the plays as they were executed on the floor and intently listening in to the words of the coach. When the team paused for a water break, he stepped on to the court to get up shots, sneaking in reps of his own.
For as long as Kinston High School (N.C.) basketball coach Perry Tyndall has known Brandon Ingram, the determined teenager has always been a gym rat. Tyndall immediately recognized his deep-seeded passion for the game. In two weeks, that will culminate into being a top pick in the NBA draft in which the Sixers hold the first overall selection.
Tyndall, who is also the athletic director and a teacher at Kinston, recently discussed the evolution of Ingram in an interview with CSNPhilly.com.
Ingram was years away from high school when he began accompanying his brother, Bo, to practice. He grew up in a basketball family, with his father Donald being well-known in the area for his skills in traveling three-on-three tournaments.
Donald helped run a local rec center, and Brandon could often be found there at 10 p.m. working on his game with his friends. Tyndall recalled one conference game when the team underperformed, especially at finishing at the basket. Brandon Ingram stayed in the gym until 1 a.m. working on contact at the rim.
“One thing about Brandon that was always unique was he always took critiques, coaching and he’s never been a kid that’s felt like he’s arrived,” Tyndall said. “He’s always looking at the things he can do better and works at them.”
Ingram won four straight state titles during his years at Kinston High School. He was only one of two players in North Carolina to reach that feat and earned championship MVP honors as a senior. Tyndall said even though he may not show many emotions on the court, Ingram is a fierce competitor who hates losing.
“His demeanor naturally translated well into being effective for us because he was cool, calm and collected,” Tyndall said. “He didn’t get easily rattled, even-keeled, the moment never really fazed him. His freshman year in the state championship game, he was 8 for 8 from the free throw line in a big game. That was the standard for him.”
NBA skill sets
Tyndall believes Ingram’s array of skills are a fit for today’s NBA, where there is a focus on multi-position versatility and players take on more than one position regardless of their size. Ingram, a 6-foot-9 forward, did not limit his development to a specific role.
He averaged 17.3 points (44.2 percent from the floor, 41.0 percent from three), 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.4 blocks per game last season as a freshman for the Duke Blue Devils.
“He’s 6-foot-9 and he handles the ball really well,” Tyndall said. “I think there are so many attributes he has that translates to the NBA now … he’s going to impact the game in so many ways, specifically with his ability to shoot, dribble, his length and his basketball IQ.”
Pound for pound
Ingram’s biggest criticism heading into the draft is his weight. Only 196 pounds, he has to put on muscle in order to hold his own in the NBA at his position. Tyndall said Ingram’s metabolism is “sky high.” Building up his physique will be part of his NBA evolution, but Tyndall said Ingram is not held back by his stature.
“He’s a crafty player,” Tyndall said. “He may not overpower you, but he understands angles, how to create separation. Being as tall as he is, he can be a mismatch. With a mismatch, he goes back to his basketball IQ. … What he may lack in overall pounds, he’s smart enough to figure out how to impact the game in other ways and get off shots and do the things necessary to be effective. … He’s no pushover by any means.”
Tyndall had the rare luxury of having a towering high schooler who could play the point. Ingram began learning every position during his freshman and sophomore years. By the time he was a senior, Tyndall could rely on him to run the floor.
He described Ingram’s court vision as “unbelievable” and is impressed by how he plays in transition. Last season, Ingram led the Blue Devils in assists during six games.
“We weren’t a strict motion team; we had sets,” Tyndall said. “They say a point guard is an extension of the coach and it’s very, very true. … When he stepped in there, I was very, very comfortable because lots of times he was thinking what I was thinking and he was able to direct it on the fly very quickly.”
Eighteen and counting
Ingram already has reached top-two pick potential … and he won’t turn 19 until September. He is the youngest player in the 2016 draft. His youth is intriguing as a draft prospect, and is a point of comparison to Ben Simmons, who turns 20 in July.
“He’s going to continue to get better and better,” Tyndall said. “He’s not close to reaching his ceiling, in my opinion, and that’s scary when you think about it. He’s an effective player right now, but I think his best basketball is ahead of him.”
Student of the game
Tyndall attributes part of Ingram’s success to his commitment to studying basketball. He referred to Ingram as “savvy” based on the way he processes and applies the coaching he receives. Ingram also has a deep knowledge of the game given the countless hours he spent observing it from the sidelines growing up in a basketball family.
“He always immersed himself in wanting to be around the game,” Tyndall said. “You hear these stories about Steph Curry growing up and going to practice with his dad. … That’s the case with Brandon. I think basketball has been such a big part of his life and he’s been around it so much that naturally he understands it. … He’s always respected the game as well.”
Ready for the next step
Tyndall is in frequent communication with Ingram, speaking weekly and exchanging text messages in between. They discuss the impending changes of his career, his daily workouts and life off the court. Tyndall said Ingram is “handling it great” when it comes to the draft process. Only two weeks away from draft night, Ingram is excited to enter this new phase.
“He said, ‘Coach, it’s a dream come true,’” Tyndall recalled. “‘My job now is to work on a game that I love.’”