When we checked in with Brandon Ingram before the season started, it was pretty clear how motivated he was to become a great player. The amount of work that the 20-year-old has put in has also turned heads inside the Lakers building, and in conjunction with his talent and length, been cause for considerable optimism.
In Los Angeles, most of us have only known Ingram for just 17 months, from the day he was selected No. 2 overall out of Duke.
But Jerry Stackhouse – an 18-year NBA veteran that averaged 16.9 points per game – has known Ingram since he was in fourth grade.
Stackhouse, now in his early 40’s, grew up about 10 minutes away from Ingram’s childhood home in Kinston, North Carolina.
“He used to come down with his family and have pick-up games at the rec center,” recalled Ingram. “I was always there, and he always gave me pieces of advice to keep working. He definitely took me under his wing.”
Eventually, Ingram not only starred for Stackhouse’s AAU squad, but became the first kid in Kinston history to win four straight high school state titles.
The two are in constant contact to this day, and had the chance to go out to dinner in Toronto, where Stackhouse works for the Raptors as the head coach of their G-League team, on Saturday night.
We caught up with Stackhouse prior to Lakers-Raptors to get his perspective on his mentee, then checked in with Ingram to gauge Stackhouse’s influence. Below is a transcript:
MT: When did you first get the sense that Ingram could be the next kid out of Kinston to follow in your footsteps?
Stackhouse: When I saw him playing as a 7th grader … I knew him before then, but just seeing the length was the first thing (that stands out). Then when he was an 8th grader, he was working out with the high school team. Just from his understanding of the game, being in the right spots ... He was a kid that ran to the ball. It was amazing and refreshing to see a kid that was cool with movement, being away from the ball, that didn’t have to touch it to be effective. He’d set screens … handle the basketball … soak up everything we were trying to teach defensively, and then his ability to shoot the ball. That’s why it’s such a funny thing to me when they talk about him getting his 3-point shot. That was the best part of his game as a young player, to step out and shoot the basketball. I think it’s more about him getting comfortable the same way he was at Duke. He’s going to really show how capable he is of shooting the ball at this level. But yeah, he was special. He’s a sponge, so as long as he keeps getting good coaching, he’ll get better.
MT: How important to you was it to go back to your hometown and try to help the next generation?
Stackhouse: Oh man, Brandon is just one. There’s (Pistons forward) Reggie Bullock, and so many other kids we try to impact through the Kinston High School program, and now the mantle is handed over to Brandon, and he’s doing all the things that I did making sure they had all of the new uniforms and shoes and everything*. It wasn’t just Brandon. We have a kid that’s a sophomore at Pepperdine right now (Darnell Dunn) that is the only other kid besides Brandon that won four straight championships. They’re they only two people in history. Those kids were looked at the same. We didn’t know Brandon was going to blossom into who he is now, he just worked his way to it and we wanted to help manage it and have a blueprint for his success. He sticks to it, man. I sent someone out there to work with him on an individual basis, on a strength training basis, and Brandon just does the work. That’s why I’m glad to see it’s starting to come together for him.
*With the help of Adidas, Ingram recently went back to redo the gymnasium he grew up playing in.
MT: He seems so focused on just being great at basketball…
Stackhouse: (Laughs) He likes clothes, I can see. He think he’s some type of fashion guy. Watching some of the stuff he wears and some of the endorses we’ve been able to secure for him. It’s fun to watch his personality coming out some, because he’s just always been quiet. Especially around authority. With me as a coach, when I’d come in the room, they’d have been laughing, and all of a sudden it’s quiet. But he was the one (making jokes) when I wasn’t around. So it’s good for other people to be seeing his personality.
MT: How have you kept your connection since he got drafted by the Lakers?
Stackhouse: I took him to dinner last night, just some friends and family in town to see him because of this game. We just spent some time. And with us it’s always basketball, so we went and watched the Boston-Golden State game. I just try to always be in his mind with little things that can help him, especially on the defensive end. Everybody sees what he’s capable of on the offensive end. He always makes the right play. That’s what I’m most impressed with. I watch (the Lakers) all the time, and he continues to make the extra one. Luke (Walton) is doing a great job. They’re getting better game to game. It’s good.
MT: You mentioned how he’s always doing the right thing, and the Lakers coaches seem to love that, while at the same time, sometimes they want him to be even more aggressive. But ultimately, I guess you never want to discourage someone from making the “right” play.
Stackhouse: I just think when Lonzo is back, that can become contagious with this group. That’s what has to be contagious, for them to trust each other a little bit more. That’s a good shot, but if I move it one more, that’s a great one. If you get more guys doing that, (Brandon) won’t have to be more aggressive because it will naturally flow to him that way. He’ll be that guy getting the extra pass, and when he’s in that spot, he’s the one making the extra pass. That’s youth. Now when they figure out they really need each other to win, it will start to flip.
MT: Does Brandon understand what you’re saying any differently now that he’s in the NBA, and speaking the same basketball language?
Stackhouse: I’m telling you, he was special. He (always) understood it. I go back to some of the plays and instincts he had passing the basketball: he was doing that as a ninth grader. He was well beyond his years from that standpoint of just seeing the game. I think now, I’m not really amazed at it. He understands exactly what I’m talking about. He’s a player. And you have to continue to coach players. They need guys on them continuing to reiterate the small details. All the big things? He can do. Now it’s about the little things.
Q: On having dinner with Stackhouse the night before the game:
Ingram: It was good to see him in person. We are in conversation every three days, just talking. He’s been helping me throughout this process. He’ll be at All-Star (in Los Angeles), he’ll be around for a very long time as long as I’m in this league and trying to be the best I can be. He’s been really, really good for me as I continue my work on and off the court.
On where Stackhouse helps him the most:
Ingram: Just mentally. Trying to be the best I can. Trying to make the best decisions for myself on and off the basketball court. Defensively he helps me a lot. He always gets into me about if I get back-cut in a game. He’s always looking at the small details of everything that I do to make me a better person.