CHICAGO — During this week when the nation's best high school basketball players converge in one place to show off their games, no one has drawn more praise than Brandon Ingram.
The 6-foot-9 small forward from Kinston, N.C., isn't a top-10 consensus recruit in the class of 2015, but he's arguably performed better than anyone who showed up this week for the McDonald's All-American Game.
It started Monday morning, when Ingram turned in what Scout.com's Evan Daniels called "the best McDonald's practice performance" he had seen in nearly 10 years of covering high school recruiting.
"I thought he was tremendous," Daniels told the Herald-Leader. "It's clear that he is a much more confident player and much more confident in his offensive abilities.
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"That dude has tremendous upside — as much upside as anyone in this class. Honestly, I was blown away by his performance."
Less than a year ago, Ingram was noticeably unsure of his game — at times even gawky in his thin, 6-9 frame. He hesitated at times with the ball and seemed a step behind when trying to defend quicker, smaller players on the perimeter.
During this week's practice sessions, which are always much more competitive than the McDonald's game itself, Ingram was a standout.
If defenders gave him an inch on the perimeter, he nailed a long-range jumper. If they played too close, he would just go right by them. Once Ingram gets to the rim, his length and touch make him difficult to counter.
"Being 6-9 and being able to play guard, not many guys can do that. And I use it to my advantage," Ingram said. "Every coach that I've talked to told me that I'm unique. They just said to use it — when smaller guys come out, shoot over the top of them. And when bigger guys come out, just go right by them."
At one point during Tuesday's practice, Ingram was being defended on the perimeter by Syracuse signee Malachi Richardson, who stayed in front of him about as well as could be expected. Unable to get by the 6-6 defender, Ingram simply let fly with a jumper. Richardson turned around to watch it go through the basket — nothing but net — and gave a what-else-am-I-supposed-to-do shrug before heading to the sideline.
Five-star power forward Ivan Rabb was on the same practice court and often in the paint, getting an up-close look at Ingram as he finished off his drives to the basket.
"He's basically a big guy playing the wing," Rabb said. "He uses his length to his advantage. He might be on the left side of the rim and finish on the right side. He uses that length, and a lot of times you can't really react to it because he's so long."
Ingram remains focused on six schools: Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina State. His mentor is former UNC star Jerry Stackhouse, who attended the same high school as Ingram and also sponsors his AAU team. Ingram has said that he was ready to commit to the Tar Heels a few months ago, before the latest details of the academic scandal at the school surfaced.
He told the Herald-Leader that he plans to wait to pick a school until after all the current college players make their NBA decisions.
Daniels declined to give a specific prediction but said he thinks it's unlikely Ingram will leave his home state of North Carolina. The Cats are still in the mix, though, and UK Coach John Calipari has set up an in-home visit with Ingram for after the NCAA Tournament.
Ingram says he's in contact with the UK coaching staff every week.
"Coach Cal is a very good guy," he said. "He mainly talks about the NBA. He tells me if I don't want to go to the NBA, don't come there. I've seen what he does with guys — he puts guys in the right settings."
Wherever Ingram goes next, he probably won't be there long before heading to the pros.
"His upside is pretty scary," Daniels said.