Brandon Ingram hopes to add his name to that NBA-worthy list. A very thin forward who has sprouted from 6-6 to 6-8 over the past 18 months, Ingram's career trajectory appears more promising each time he steps onto the court.
He emerged his freshman year as a gawky and relatively unathletic wing. He clearly possessed admirable skill, but how would he be able to employ it given his apparent physical limitations?
His sophomore campaign brought greater success on the court, but questions about his athleticism remained pervasive. At the 2012 High School OT Invitational, playing against notable competition, he appeared a step slower than the other high-majors in attendance.
Nevertheless, Ingram helped lead Kinston to consecutive AA state championships as a freshman and sophomore. He had to be doing something right.
His game first showed real progress during the 2013 summer. In Las Vegas, Ingram's first step looked quicker and his bounciness at the rim significantly improved. The result was that he finished more effectively in traffic than he had in the past, enabling him to utilize his considerable perimeter skills to greater effect.
Many speculated that the Tar Heels — which hold a deep connection to Kinston — would secure a quick pledge. Ingram has proved more methodical than widely expected, however, and despite taking multiple unofficials and then an official to UNC last weekend, he remains undecided. In addition to the hard-charging Wolfpack and intrigued (but no offer yet) Duke, Louisville offered over the weekend and has enjoyed rousing success in the Tar Heel State recently.
Back on the court, Ingram's game continues to round into the shape. And yet, as he answers one question, another seems to arise. At this juncture few question his high-major pedigree, but his continuing growth has brought his eventual position into uncertainty.
Ingram has shot up to a full 6-8 and remains average in terms of lateral quickness, and thus he may project more as a stretch forward than as a wing. He's very slight, however, and whether he'll be able to develop the lower body strength to defend and rebound like a power forward remains to be seen.
In his favor is a set of very long arms. Ingram can back off opposing offensive players to thwart their quickness advantage but still contest or even block a jump shot. He also uses his length as an offensive rebounder and finisher inside. He's far from a post player, but he elevates over shotblockers and generally is able to get the ball on the rim.
His handling and passing are excellent for power forward and fine for a wing, and his jump shot — though inconsistent and off his ear — has become a legitimate scoring weapon. Improving his accuracy from deep will be required if he's going to remain on the wing. Though still not an explosive driver, Ingram now does attack from the baseline and finishes with dunks off one foot.
His summer will determine whether he remains more a national top 50 prospect, or if he can perhaps challenge for the top 25. Scouts who've seen him less frequently first will muse over his future position, then calibrate their expectations for him based on his his athleticism-skill quotient. Moreover, Ingram may not be finished growing: If he gets to 6-10, that issue will be settled.
In the meantime, he'll try to push Kinston to yet another state title.