Big Fish to Small Fish -- Ingram Doesn't Mind

It has been a year of adjustments for Hawthorne's Cornelius Ingram, a University of Florida freshman who is playing both football and basketball. After years of being the big fish in the very small pond that is Hawthorne, the former All-America selection in both sports is learning to adjust mentally to just being one of the guys.

The 6-4, 218-pound Ingram was considered one of the most gifted high school quarterbacks in the country when he signed his football scholarship to Florida back in February, but to get his name on the dotted line, the Gators had to promise that he would also have a chance to play basketball. Coach Ron Zook honored that commitment, even turning Ingram over to Coach Billy Donovan well before the basketball team's first regular season game.

"Coach Zook did what he promised to do and I really appreciate that," said Ingram Sunday afternoon after playing 12 productive minutes for Donovan in the Gator basketball team's 100-68 victory over Georgia Southern. "Being able to play two sports here was a big reason I became a Gator. I always wanted to play here at Florida, but I wanted to play both sports.

"Coach Zook and Coach Donovan both talked to me and they said I could do both. I'm really happy that they did."

With the football team, Ingram spent most of the fall as the number three quarterback behind Chris Leak and Gavin Dickey. He didn't get into any games, but he was able to show some flashes of his ability in the preseason scrimmages. He has a powerful arm, but like most freshmen quarterbacks, particularly those coming from small school environments where the defenses they face aren't very sophisticated, Ingram was erratic with his passing. Where he did show off his natural skills was when he pulled the ball down and took off running. He's got sub 4.6 speed to go with his size and long strides, plus he has an elusive quality about him.

While he didn't get to play in the games, he says that the learning experience was tremendous.

"There was just so much to learn," he said. "Coach Zaunbrecher and Coach Fedora were really patient with me and they didn't make me learn it all at once. The more we practiced, the better I got with the offense."

As the Gators hit November with football, Zook released Ingram to the basketball team where he's been making more than the obvious transitions.

"The first thing was the physical part," he said. "After football, it took awhile to get into the kind of basketball shape you have to be in to play at this level. I'm really just now getting comfortable with my basketball shape."

The next transition was similar to the transition he made in football, and that dealt with sitting on the bench for long stretches of time.

"In Hawthorne, I never went off the field in football," he said, "and in basketball, they needed me to be the scorer and rebounder, so I didn't get a chance to sit there either. Now, I'm sitting and that's been a big change for me. It's a little bit tougher adjustment mentally than it is physically, I think.

"In high school, I was used to being the man and usually I was quicker or stronger than everyone else. I could just do things that I wanted to do pretty much. Here, the game's so much faster and all the players are good. It's not like in high school when every team may have one good player and sometimes you play someone that has two or three. Here, every player on every team is a good player."

Even though he was a big scorer in high school he's not shown much of his offensive game in the minutes he's gotten on the court for the Gator basketball team. He's still a little bit tentative to take his shot, and though he has the kind of quickness and slashing ability to get to the hoop, he's still hesitant there as well. Sunday against Georgia Southern, he took the ball on the wing against former PK Yonge star Terry Williams, made a foot fake to the right then blew by him into the lane, but instead of taking the ball all the way to the rack, Ingram found an open shooter on the wing where he dished the ball off.

"Yeah, I guess I could have taken it all the way," he said, "but we had someone open and I was just as happy to pass it off. I guess I'll get a little more confident as I get into the games more and maybe I'll get some chances to score, but even if I don't, if I can help the team, I'm fine with that."

He showed an ability to help the team Sunday. Surprisingly, he was Donovan's first sub off the bench in the first half. He played on the wing mostly, but late in the game he once again got to show his skills as a point guard. Ever since backup point guard Taurean Green tweaked an ankle against Florida A&M, Ingram has been taking some reps as the third point guard.

When he took the floor against FAMU, he showed he could handle the ball in traffic but he had problems finding his teammates since he was unfamiliar with the point position against the press. When he played the point in the second half against Georgia Southern, it was obvious he's picked things up quickly. His ball handling was smoother, his passes crisper. Twice against the press, he put the ball behind his back and then between his legs to beat a defender off the dribble.

"When Taurean went down, Coach Donovan put me in at the point and it was new, but I thought I would be able to handle it," said Ingram. "The first time was tough, but it gets easier every time I get a chance to play there. I'm getting time in practice against the press so it's helped me a lot.

"The best part is that I get to do something that helps the team out. I like that a lot. If it's playing defense, getting a rebound or being the backup point guard, it doesn't matter as long as I'm doing something to help out."

Against Georgia Southern, he also showed the hard work on the defensive end when he knocked the ball away from a GSU guard and then flicked it forward to Anthony Roberson to begin a fast break that was concluded with a thunder dunk by David Lee.

"All the little things you do add up," he said. "Getting a deflection can start a fast break. Making a steal can stop someone from scoring. Getting a rebound can give your team the ball or get you a second shot. I'm just as happy doing the little things that help the team as I am when I can score. I had to score in high school. I don't have to here because we've got great scorers like Matt (Walsh) and Peep (Anthony Roberson). All I have to do is help out."

When the subject of Urban Meyer was brought up, he broke into a grin. It was obvious that he's had the chance to see Utah play on television.

"Yeah, I've seen them play and first thing my friends said was, 'that offense is made for you' and I kinda thought the same thing," he said. "They have good balance with throwing and running and they depend on their quarterback to make a lot of plays.

"I love the way their quarterback (Alex Smith) started everything. He is always a threat to make a big throw or take off and run off the option. I can see myself doing that. I think I'm going to love spring football."

He's had a chance to talk briefly with Coach Meyer about football. He found the new coach straightforward and easy to talk to.

"He's got that intensity about him," said Ingram. "You can tell by the way he talks and the way he does things that he's going to get things done. I think he's a winner. I really like him. I like the way he talks to you eye to eye."

For now, though, Ingram is a reserve on the Gator basketball team. His focus is squarely on basketball and helping Coach Donovan any way he can.

"I'm a team player," he said. "This is basketball season, so basketball's got all my attention. When it's time for football, football will be number one. Right now, I'm just happy helping Coach Donovan and my teammates."


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