Since there’s some serious recent history working against Duke this weekend in Anaheim, Calif., this seems as appropriate a moment as any to take a step back and appreciate Brandon Ingram’s brief career with the Blue Devils.
If it comes to an end against Oregon or Oklahoma or Texas A&M – and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski last week established beyond any doubt that Ingram will turn pro after the season – it will have been no less entertaining for its brevity.
Ingram and Grayson Allen this season have given Duke two players capable of scoring against anyone at any time under any circumstances. That’s a rare thing in college basketball these days, especially from a sophomore and a freshman, respectively.
Ingram had his struggles at times but quickly became the star he was expected to be despite his spindly frame and the additional post responsibilities he was forced to assume when Amile Jefferson was injured – a true inside-outside threat, too quick for big men to guard and too big for guards to handle, a 41 percent shooter from 3-point range.
The Blue Devils are 11-1 when Ingram scores 20 or more points, 14-9 when he doesn’t. In 2016, he has played 37, 38, 39 or 40 minutes in 17 of 22 games, an insane workload for an 18-year-old carrying less than 200 pounds on a 6-foot-9 frame.
Because Ingram and Allen are so explosive, it’s impossible to count the Blue Devils out against Oregon or anyone else they face, even if Duke has never won an NCAA tournament game in the Pacific time zone (0-4) or beaten a better seed in the NCAA tournament since 1991 (0-3). The Blue Devils will have to overcome both of those strange hexes twice to get to Houston, but they’re also 2-3 this season against teams better than Oklahoma and 3-5 against teams better than Oregon and Texas A&M, based on Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings.
So the Blue Devils are capable, and every game they play is another chance to appreciate Ingram’s ability at the college level.
(The same is potentially true for Allen, given the general weakness of this year’s draft class, but his pro prospects at this point are less certain and more fluid.)
This phenomenon is particularly acute given Tuesday’s decision by N.C. State’s Cat Barber to leave his name in the NBA draft and sign with an agent, departing after his junior year. Barber wasn’t the transcendent talent Ingram was walking into college, but he grew and developed over his three seasons with the Wolfpack into one of the ACC’s most dangerous scorers.
Barber is also a great argument for the value of an athletic scholarship. While the financial value of a free degree doesn’t match up with the amount of money in the college-athletics-industrial complex – and the players will get a piece of the revenue they generate, someday – his scholarship got Barber out of a tough neighborhood in Newport News, Va., and into a cosmopolitan, diverse campus environment where over the course of three years he visibly blossomed not only as a basketball player but as a person.
Whatever comes next for Barber, whether he’s an NBA player or not – and if his jump shot continues to improve, there’s a place for him in the league – he will be prepared for it. His experience at N.C. State was nothing short of life-changing, all thanks to his athletic scholarship. He made the most of it.
Barber benefited from three full years at N.C. State. Can a one-and-done player like Ingram get the same value out of a single year on campus? That’s hard to say. Ultimately, like so much in life, it depends on the person.
Either way, Barber is done with college basketball, and Ingram soon will be, one way or another. The days when a player of Ingram’s caliber would stick around for two or three years are over. Barber entertained us for three years, and Ingram for one, but they have been a lot of fun to watch while they’re here.