LAS VEGAS — Brandon Ingram is only 18 years old. He spent just one season at Duke under head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
But in that short time Krzyzewski, who is also coach of the U.S. Olympic team, saw a combination of skill set and mentality that makes him predict that Ingram will someday become one of the NBA’s brightest stars.
“Brandon is very smart about people, about the game, and he’s a willing learner,” Krzyzewski said on the second day of USA training camp on Tuesday. “I’m telling you, he’s a no-maintenance guy. I love that kid. I think he’s going to be very special (in) some time.”
Ingram’s brief career with the Blue Devils was enough for his former coach to extend an invitation to be part of the USA Select Team — a group of the NBA’s top young players who are tasked with scrimmaging the national team before its run at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Seeing Ingram suit up against some of the best players in the world reminds Krzyzewski of when those stars were in Ingram’s sneakers just a few years ago.
“When one of our own guys from Duke is good enough to be part of that process,” Krzyzewski said, “I look back — not that I’m saying he’s Kevin Durant — at Kevin Durant at 17 (years old) on a Select Team; Kyrie Irving at a young age, Klay Thompson.
“So now Brandon has that opportunity, and you learn from it. But I’m proud of him. I love Brandon. Brandon’s a no-maintenance, great guy.”
Meanwhile, the second pick of the 2016 NBA Draft tries to keep some perspective on the praise that his college coach heaps on him.
“I like compliments, but if you settle right now and not be the player that you’re supposed to be, it’s going to be really ugly,” Ingram said.
That inclination to shrug off his own hype is just part of the reason that those like Krzyzewski feel so optimistic about his future.
The coach even projects unwavering confidence about Ingram’s biggest critique: his slender, 6-foot-9, 190-pound frame.
“Everyone talks about him being thin,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s strong: strong-minded and strong-willed. And he’s stronger physically than people think.”
Now, Krzyzewski isn’t promising that Ingram will become a superstar the second he hits the Staples Center floor, instead citing that he will need an “adjustment period” while jumping from college to the NBA, just like he did when he went from ESPN’s No. 3 high school recruit in 2015 to ACC Rookie of the Year in 2016.
Krzyzewski recalls Ingram taking nearly a month to find his rhythm at Duke. In fact, he didn’t truly seem comfortable until the eighth game of the season, when he dropped 24 points on 10-of-15 in a victory over Indiana.
From there, it was on.
“After that, Amile Jefferson got hurt, so he was placed in an even more prominent role,” Krzyzewski said. “Then he just built. He is going to get so much better. The thing about him is he loves the process. He loves the game. He’s a great teammate.”
Ingram also loves his former coach, who he says still feeds him pieces of advice every day.
“Playing one year under Coach K feels like you’ve played for three years,” Ingram said. “I learned so much from him; gained a lot of wisdom and knowledge from him.”
Krzyzewski says that part of his message to Ingram is to “be himself and be instinctive,” and the rookie Laker has soaked it up.
“I’m not trying to be anyone else,” Ingram said. “I just know that being myself is what got me here right now.”
Krzyzewski forecasts a remarkable career for Ingram because he sees him as the type of player that shouldn’t “color with numbers.” He feels that Ingram should play and develop how he sees fit rather than feel pressured to play a certain way.
For a player so often compared to Durant, it means painting his own future rather than filling in the lines that someone else drew.
“Color it the way you think it should be colored,” Krzyzewski said. “With the really good players and the instinctive guys, you should always color that way.”