Throughout this basketball season, games at Kinston High were must-see events in the eastern North Carolina town of about 22,000 residents.
Kinston, about 90 miles east of Raleigh, has one of the nation’s best high school players in 6-foot-9 senior Brandon Ingram, ESPN’s No. 2-ranked small forward prospect and the No. 12 player overall.
Ingram is a McDonald’s All-American who is still undecided about where he’ll attend college, but Saturday he’ll lead Kinston (25-4) against East Lincoln (24-0) in the N.C. 2A championship game in Chapel Hill.
Almost every game Kinston High plays, Ingram attracts large crowds, including some well-known faces to college basketball fans.
“We’ve had a who’s who of college coaches in here,” Kinston coach Perry Tyndall said. “Bill Self (Kansas) has been in. Coach (Roy) Williams (North Carolina). (N.C. State) coach (Mark) Gottfried. Coach Steve Alford (UCLA). Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski of Duke) and (Blue Devils assistant) Jeff Capel.
“It does create a big buzz in town. Normally, kids leak out on social media about who’s here or who’s coming. Our community loves Kinston basketball, and when you get those big names coming, people want to come out and see it.”
Ingram is the latest in long line of star players at a school legendary for producing them. He follows familiar names such as Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell (Charlotte 49ers), Charles Shackleford (N.C. State), Jerry Stackhouse (North Carolina), Craig Dawson (Wake Forest) and Reggie Bullock (North Carolina).
Like many youngsters in his community, Ingram grew up wanting to be like Dawson or Bullock. His older brother, Bo, was co-Associated Press N.C. Player of the Year after leading Kinston to a state championship in 2008. Bo later played at Texas Arlington.
Little brother has become an even bigger star. Brandon Ingram says he will choose a college in April. His list has six schools (listed in the order he gave them Thursday): North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and N.C. State.
“It feels pretty good coming from a small town and you see all the great guys who came through here and be so serious about sports and school,” Ingram said. “It’s a great feeling to fill people’s shoes like Jerry Stackhouse and Craig Dawson. Those guys paved the way for me.”
Ingram said he “probably” would have committed to North Carolina in November if the Tar Heels were not involved in a far-reaching academic scandal. He also took visits to Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA in November that made him consider playing out of state.
“First and foremost, that scandal thing affected my decision a little bit,” Ingram said. “But I keep in contact with Roy Williams and (assistant) Steve Robinson, and I’m hearing good things about it.
“But I’m not sure, because Kansas and Kentucky and UCLA came on board in the summer and once I visited there, it showed me there are more things out there than in-state schools, and that’s all I was visiting. I developed a great relationship with those (out of state) coaches.”
Ingram, a slender post player at 190 pounds, has played point guard some this season and has a deadly outside shooting touch. He averages 21 points and 11 rebounds and last summer began drawing comparisons for his playing style to another lanky 6-9 basketball star, Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Oklahoma Thunder.
YouTube is filled with highlights of Ingram’s cross-over dribbling, jump shooting and dunking.
“What’s not to like about him,” said N.C. recruiting analyst Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoop Report. “He’s highly skilled for his position and the thing I like about him is his ability to grab a defensive rebound and put the ball on the floor and finish on the other end.
“He’s head and shoulders above anybody else (in North Carolina). There’s not even a close second.”
Ingram said he takes about 1,000 shots each day and can often be found in a local recreation center late on weekends practicing. During the week, he’ll go to high school practice, then go to the rec center afterward. Next he goes to eat, and then back to the rec center.
“Brandon’s unique,” Tyndall said. “But he’s very humble and a great kid. He understands the bigger picture.”
In Kinston’s first game this season against Eastern Wayne, Ingram scored 43 points, five short of the school record. In January, he had 33 points in the first half against South Lenoir.
Tyndall said people started texting, tweeting and then showing up to the game to see the record fall. Ingram started the second half with four assists in an 85-37 win. He scored 41.
“That’s the type player he is,” Tyndall said. “He took what came and turned into a distributor, knowing he was having a career game and could’ve broken the school record, but he did what the team needed. That’s Brandon.”
Saturday, Ingram and teammate Darnell Dunn can become the first NCHSAA boys’ players to win four straight state championships. Ingram said he’s not thinking about much else except that game, including where he might attend college.
When it’s over, he’ll study which programs are sending guys off to the NBA or to graduation. He said that will factor into his decision.
“Right now, I’m just looking to see open slots (on potential college teams),” he said. “I’m not worried about position. I believe with my work ethic, I can fill a spot. But we’ve got this game first. It’s a thing kids dream of. I give glory to God.
“I don’t think I was this serious coming to school here, and to grow into being one of the nation’s top players has been amazing. Now going for a fourth straight title, it’s a dream come true.
“These guys want it more than anything. We made a change for Kinston High School winning three straight, and getting a fourth would be very special.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Time Warner Cable to broadcast Saturday’s NCHSAA championships
Time Warner Cable SportsChannel will broadcast Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association championships from Chapel Hill.
Game coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. on Channel 323.
Smith Center – Channel 323
Noon: Kinston girls vs. Wilkes Central
2:30: Kinston boys vs. East Lincoln
5: Southeast Raleigh girls vs. Myers Park
7:30: Garner boys vs. Ardrey Kell
Carmichael Arena – Channel 324
Noon: Riverside Martin girls vs. Winston-Salem Preparatory
2:30: East Carteret boys vs. Winston-Salem Preparatory
5: Chapel Hill girls vs. Hickory
7:30: Fayetteville Terry Sanford boys vs. Gastonia Ashbrook