EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Listening to Brandon Ingram speak, it’s easy to forget just how young he is.
At his introductory press conference Tuesday, the Lakers’ 18-year-old rookie handled his first foray with the Los Angeles media contingent with a rare form of even-keeled confidence and sensibility.
His goals for his rookie season?
“Just come in here and be coachable and be aggressive each and every day and never miss a day. Never take a day off.”
Now that Luol Deng is in the mix, will he get discouraged if he doesn’t start?
“If I have to be a reserve, I’ll be coachable enough to do what Coach [Luke Walton] tells me to do.”
OK, but what about the burden of inheriting Kobe Bryant’s old locker?
“I like it … It’s going to motivate me to do good things on the court.”
The ability to turn potential back-breaking expectations into fuel is exceptional at any age, but consider Ingram’s support system.
The 6-foot-9, 190-pound Ingram counts retired 18-year NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse (a fellow Kinston, N.C., native) and legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as mentors. His dad, Donald, and mom, Joann, sat front and center Tuesday, having made the cross-country trip to support their son. His older brother, Bo, played at the University of Texas at Arlington and served as a kind of personal trainer.
Ingram got his start from his father, who has been refereeing rec league games for over 20 years. Donald Ingram taught his youngest son the fundamentals of the game, and showed him how to remain cool under pressure.
“When he was coming up, 5, 6, 7 years old, he knew the rules and he knew how to handle issues and players on the court,” Donald Ingram said.
By the time Ingram reached middle school Bo was running college-level drills with him and Stackhouse had taken him under his wing. Then came Krzyzewski, Ingram’s coach for his one season at Duke.
The best piece of advice Ingram said he’s received is “You’re always becoming, you’ve never arrived,” a J.J. Redick quote oft repeated by Krzyzewski.
“If he still tries to get better and better at his coaching job then I can try to get better and better on the basketball court,” Ingram said.
This mentorship helps Ingram stay level-headed and undaunted by the prospect of facing the best players in the world.
“He knows that the players he’s playing against, they’re more than likely just as afraid to hold him,” Donald Ingram said. “They don’t know what his strong points are. It doesn’t scare me at all.
It’s not all about physicality, it’s about what you know [in your head] and in your heart.”
What does scare Ingram’s father, though, is his son living on the opposite side of the country under Los Angeles’ bright and unfamiliar lights.
“L.A. is a different place from North Carolina,” Ingram said. “I’ve just got to do things differently knowing that someone is always watching. You always have to go hard on the basketball court and do the right thing off the court.”
To help him handle any of these outside distractions, Bo, 25, is set to move out to the West Coast with his younger brother and help him stay grounded.
Will Ingram be able handle the challenge of helping the new-look Lakers climb out of one of the lowest points in the club’s storied history? The franchise will begin to find out this weekend, when Ingram suits up for summer league play in Las Vegas. But, all things considered, it’s hard to imagine any rookie better equipped to handle the extraordinary load he’s been given.
“It’s always been my dream to play at this level and the Lakers are a rich franchise,” Ingram said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”