EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Until a couple of months ago, Brandon Ingram‘s new locker at the Los Angeles Lakers’ training complex was occupied by Kobe Bryant.
The 18-year-old rookie sees the daunting symbolism in literally taking the place of the most prolific scorer in franchise history, and he greets it with a smile.
“I did see where my locker was, and I definitely knew it was Kobe’s locker,” Ingram said. “(General manager) Mitch (Kupchak) told me I had some big shoes to fill when I came in here, but I liked it. I like the pressure that’s on me right now. Of course it’s going to motivate me to do good things on the court. It’s all good pressure for me.”
Ingram put on those shoes for the first time Tuesday at a practice for the Lakers’ Las Vegas summer league team. The No. 2 overall pick in last month’s draft then joined fellow Lakers selection Ivica Zubac in a tour of the complex, posing in front of owner Jeanie Buss’ collection of championship trophies before receiving their new gold jerseys – No. 14 for Ingram, No. 40 for Zubac.
The Lakers believe Ingram is a centerpiece of their next great roster. They’re starting nearly from the bottom after the worst season in team history and the retirement of Bryant, who won five titles and became the NBA’s third-leading scorer during his 20-year career.
Ingram could be two decades away from approaching those achievements, but the smooth-shooting forward hasn’t flinched under the weight of comparisons to Bryant – or to Kevin Durant, another lanky shooter who transformed a struggling team. Just over a year after graduating from high school in tiny Kinston, North Carolina, Ingram is shouldering those burdens with apparent ease.
“He never talked about (being compared to Durant),” said Ingram’s father, Donald. “He definitely has similar tools on the court, but he’s never showed that he feels the pressure. Even here, with people talking about filling Kobe’s shoes, he’s just going to pave his own way. He’s going to be Brandon.”
Ingram is already determined to build chemistry with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and fellow No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell, the Lakers’ point guard. His primary goal is to become a more vocal player after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski impressed the importance of communication on him last season.
“I was ready for this first practice,” Ingram said. “Just getting on the floor with those guys, and just seeing how he (Russell) wants to play, and of course how the coach wants to play. Connecting with those guys is really important to see what they want to do to be a contender in this league.”
Ingram’s cool is even impressing Zubac, the 7-foot Bosnian teenager chosen with the 32nd overall pick. Zubac grew up an enormous Lakers fan, but he wouldn’t want Bryant’s locker.
“He can have that pressure,” Zubac said, drawing a laugh from his new teammate.
Ingram will have plenty of support in his rookie season, starting with Luke Walton and the Lakers’ new coaching staff. Los Angeles also signed fellow Duke product Luol Deng as a free agent, and Ingram intends to stick close to his fellow 6-foot-9 Blue Devil.
He’ll also have support from family and friends, including Jerry Stackhouse, his longtime mentor and fellow Kinston native.
Donald Ingram is a veteran basketball referee who has also run a recreation center back home in Kinston. He raised his sons with a healthy respect for the game’s rules and fundamentals, putting Brandon into ball-handling drills as a child. Donald was determined to prevent his sons from falling into what he calls “the AND1” mentality of flashy, highlight-driven play.
“He’s always been a player that listened, even when the adults were playing,” Donald Ingram said. “That’s part of being coachable, his ability to listen. He’s a kid that’s willing to learn.”
Ingram’s 25-year-old brother, Bo, played at the University of Texas before getting drafted by the D-League and playing professionally in Mexico. Bo will be out on the West Coast with Brandon after summer league, looking for a place to live before getting to work in September.
“We’re from the East Coast, and he’ll be 19 years old,” Donald Ingram said. “We want to make sure he has somebody with him, and he’s living as close to the facility as possible. It’s a big concern, and that, to me, is more of a concern than his ability to make an impact with the Lakers.”