LOS ANGELES—The quiet, laid-back alpha was seated at the interview table, smothered by a mass of reporters during his media session. A sleepy-eyed Brandon Ingram, 20, by the way, was exhausted and sluggish. Still, no matter if he’s a young cat, if he’s full of energy for a man his age, he was so tired that he actually could have passed out at the podium.
A cup of hot coffee, an energy drink and a nap is just what he needs right now. After playing a rare two consecutive games and after a long flight back home, he simply didn’t have the energy but nonetheless remained perfectly amicable. He probably should step away from the game, relax at the crib and enjoy a nice, peaceful vacation. This weekend’s event is held on the Lakers home floor at Staples Center and the homers are coming to see their rising star play in this popularity game for a second consecutive season on Friday night.
He can use some rest, of course, but this time, he’s having fun during the All-Star break. Ingram was feeling sleep deprived, fighting it back, yet those shutting eyes won’t keep him off the court in the Rising Stars Challenge.
The lanky, ever-growing, 6-foot-11 giant has been one of the promising talents with a sharp spotlight beaming on him. A year ago, he was getting the rookie treatment, and now he’s treated like an immaculate superstar in a city where players are adored if they perform brilliantly.
The native of Kinston, North Carolina went from a high school standout, to a Duke freshman phenom, to a Lakers hopeful. During the offseason, Ingram worked on his strength, giving him all the self-confidence in the world to sharpen his game. He has the body and size, and he’s now maturing only in his sophomore season with the Lakers.
Although he’s still improving as a player, Ingram is garnering much attention for his rapid growth. And even though he’s not shooting the ball consistently, what he’s done so far this season is remarkably better than his rough rookie season a year ago. He’s having fun and transformed himself into an unclassifiable superstar, letting go of vast expectations that come with the territory for Ingram and the Lakers. Unfazed by the outcry surrounding a prominent franchise, he’s just playing his game calmly and loosely, and surely he knows what’s expected when he’s been down this road.
Before taking a cross-country drive down Tobacco Road to embark on a new journey on Figueroa St., where he was delightfully welcomed by the Lakers faithful, Ingram was mentored by a great communicator and an ambassador. While other players on the Lakers get far more attention, Ingram was a top star at Duke, until he chose to leave home for the Hollywood allure.
There has been a lot of buzz about him since he joined the Lakers. When he entered the league, he was prepared for the next level to some degree. According to delusional Lakers fans, he was supposed to be this All-Star-caliber player probably because of his then-coach Mike Krzyzewski, who has a penchant for shaping his kids to excel to greater heights and beyond their own expectations.
For Ingram to fly under the radar as fast as he did, it wasn’t foreign. It was common, in fact, for a town to completely forget about him when L.A. folks embrace those who are hot at the moment and catch everybody by surprise. By neglecting what he’s done on the court this season, some may take it as a form of disrespect but it only takes a tremendous amount of pressure off Ingram.
The world has been dwelling endlessly about Lonzo Ball and his crazy father. This town has been buzzing since the beginning of the season about the sleeper-to-creeper Kyle Kuzma. This town suddenly is giving Ingram plenty of breathing room, so now he can go home and sleep peacefully without any disturbance. He’s stepping his game up, establishing himself as a leader and he’s finding ways to score with his ability to create his own shot by using his body and driving to the bucket.
“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said. “I think guys have gotten better every single day that we come in with a mindset, and we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day.”
Along with former Lakers Jordan Farmar and D’Angelo Russell, Ingram becomes just the third player in franchise history to play in the Rising Stars Challenge more than once. He’s athletic and hungry, showcasing his offensive firepower, and in the course of his evolution, he’s rose to the challenge when the stakes are high and even when things are inconsequential. He’s playing his best basketball, compared to last season when he was perceived as a bust by those who lacked patience and lost faith in him for simply not making an immediate impact.
Saddled with a responsibility to lead a struggling Lakers team, he wasn’t worried about the demands that come with wearing a purple and gold uniform. He was enjoying himself and having the time of his life as a rookie who probably could have stayed in school longer to work on his game, but then maybe he wouldn’t be a Lakers forward if he opted to return to Duke for his sophomore season.
“I think when you’re winning, and you are doing the right things on the basketball floor, trying to play the game the right way, have fun always comes with it,” Ingram said.
As he gets set to represent the Lakers in this event, and his hearted devotion to basketball helps him become a more complete player, Ingram has deservingly earned this honor with his recent body of work. At the top of the list is winning championships, but as of now, he’s more focused on thriving in his new role as a playmaker at the point and a streaky 3-point shooter.
Hey, he’s having fun.