He's 6-foot-9, and shoots the lights out with moves that are more advanced than Kevin Durant at this stage — according to Kevin Durant. He's one of the highest draft picks in Los Angeles Lakers history and is slated to be the next star and savior of Hollywood's favorite sports team.
Ever since late June, his life has been a whirlwind — jetting to New York to be drafted (and endorse a deodorant stick), then heading to his North Carolina hometown, then to Los Angeles to be introduced as a Laker, then to Las Vegas for NBA summer league and to practice against Team USA, then to L.A. to house hunt (and endorse an oatmeal chocolate chip protein bar), then back to North Carolina to catch his breath.
Kevin Pelton and Baxter Holmes discuss Brandon Ingram and the balancing act involved in bulking up to withstand the rigors of an 82-game season.
Along the way, every element of that jet-set life has been interrupted by a reminder app on Brandon Ingram's iPhone — the little app that dings every three to four hours, every … single … day, telling him to eat. On a recent afternoon in Las Vegas, Ingram sank into a hotel room couch and explained how he aims for six feedings every 24 hours: breakfast, then a snack, then lunch, then a snack, then dinner, then a midnight snack. "It gets sickening," Ingram says, sounding tired, "but I just try to stick to it."
Ingram says he gorges on steak, grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and … well, it sounds like he'd rather stop there. Though Ingram's favorite class at Duke was public speaking, he's famously soft spoken; even sitting a few feet away, it's hard to hear him above the whir of a nearby air conditioner. But he seems even more reserved about the subject of his weight — or lack thereof. And it's understandable. He has faced such questions in almost every interview (and countless other settings) for years.
"I think it just gives me motivation to show these guys that the skinny part doesn't matter," Ingram said on a conference call shortly after the Lakers selected him No. 2 overall this summer. "It got me here today. Being skinny didn't mean nothing when I was battling with each and every guy, each and every night."
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So when Ingram calls his daily diet "sickening," he may also be talking about years of ad nauseam "skinny" chatter. But when he says he's trying to stick to it, well, that comes after years of food not sticking to him.
It is upon this thin frame that the Lakers have placed the hopes of resurrecting a fallen franchise, yet the greatest anxiety entering Ingram's rookie season and beyond is whether that wispy body can withstand the grind of an 82-game regular season featuring nightly battles against those far more physically mature.
Even after reportedly gaining about 25 pounds last year, he's listed at 190 and bears the build of a coat hanger — and that's what onlookers notice first, remember most and seem to worry about above all else. They cast aside his 7-foot-3 wingspan, 9-foot-2 standing reach, 41 percent shooting from 3-point range at Duke. What they fret about instead is how, if Ingram turned sideways, the 18-year-old might disappear from view altogether.
THERE WAS A time when Ingram didn't appear so frail. "He was a fat little boy, believe it or not," recalls Ingram's mother, Joann. Or, as Ingram remembers it, "I was kind of a little chubby in the face."
By middle school, though, Ingram began growing, and his father, Donald, began telling his son on an almost weekly basis, "Dang, you're looking a little bit taller this week." Soon, Ingram could stand beside his 6-3 father and the two were equals. Then, Ingram says, he grew two more inches during each year of high school.
During all those years spent sprouting skyward, Ingram "never missed a meal," Donald says. "He was always in the kitchen," adds Bo, Brandon's older brother. But nothing seemed to work. "I tried to eat more," Ingram says, "but I wasn't getting any thicker."
He faces the same issues still — and they may continue, according to what coaches have told Joann about her son. "They said he's not finished growing, so his body hasn't had a chance to catch up with him," Joann says. "I would've thought he was finished, but they said they think he has another inch or two in him."
Concerns about Ingram's durability certainly aren't new. They existed before his freshman season at Duke, according to Blue Devils assistant coach Jeff Capel, who recruited Ingram. "I don't know if I ever expressed it to [Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski]," Capel says, "but that was a concern that I had — 'Will he be able to hold up for the whole season?'" Capel worried about Ingram most entering the meat of Duke's schedule, when the team faced veteran-laden Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
To help, Ingram spent hours in the weight room. "The other thing is that he ate," Capel says. "We had him eating all the time." After Duke, Ingram worked with a North Carolina-based personal trainer and consumed six meals totaling 5,000 calories per day leading up to the draft. Around that time, Ingram relied on the reminder application on his phone — it went off every two hours, Joann says — to keep up with his hectic diet. He told USA Today that he wanted to weigh 210 pounds by the Lakers' 2016-17 opener in the fall.
The knee-jerk reaction: If Ingram wants to succeed in the "man's world" of the NBA, he must continue feasting to add as much weight as possible as quickly as possible. That view isn't exclusive to Ingram; it's decades old and is especially reserved for svelte young hoopers who, upon realizing their pro aspirations, look like saplings in an old-growth forest.
But it's wrong, experts say.
Weight goals and accelerated weight gain, they claim, are not only shortsighted, but dangerous.
IN HIS 2013 book "Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable," longtime trainer Tim Grover, who has worked with hundreds of players, most notably Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, is clear: the goal isn't to add muscle or even necessarily weight.
"The goal is to train your muscles for maximum quick, explosive force," Grover writes. "If you want a bodybuilding program for beach muscles, look elsewhere."
In an interview, Grover laments the notion that Ingram must rapidly bulk up in order to survive in the pro ranks.
"That's how they're going to fail in the NBA," Grover says. "[Weight gain should be] a slow process. These are basketball players. These aren't body builders. They move. They perform. They have to perform out there. So they know how their body feels. You can't just pack all this amount of weight on there and expect them to still be able to have the shooting touch and move the same way."
Grover and others who have worked with athletes in this field for years strongly suggest that the best and safest approach to weight gain is to space it out over several years. And if Ingram wants a specific blueprint, he needn't look any further than the childhood idol whose posters graced his bedroom wall, whose sneakers he sported, and whose moves he mirrored, a fellow slender, sharp-shooting wing to whom his build is most often compared: Kevin Durant.
IN 2007, DURANT swept seven national player of the year awards following a scintillating freshman season at the University of Texas, where he led the Big 12 Conference in scoring (25.8 points per game) and rebounding (11.1). Yet for all his talent, the biggest national buzz involved what he lacked: strength.
"As far as skill wise, [Ingram is] a little bit more advanced than I was at that time. I was just running, jumping, shooting threes. But he can put the ball on the floor, change directions, get to the rim, shoot the pull-up three. That stuff started to come a little bit later on for me."
The Seattle Times, citing a confidential pre-draft document, reported that the 6-foot-9 Durant was the only one of 80 prospects unable to bench press 185 pounds. That detail fueled fears at the time that Durant might be too thin — listed at 215 pounds at Texas — and too weak to last in the NBA.
History suggests that Durant, ahem, overcame that shortcoming. Looking back, Durant says today, "I just didn't care what people were saying. I knew that I was a little different as a player, so I wouldn't let that get in my way of what I wanted to do. Mentally, I knew that I could play with these guys [in the NBA]. I didn't let me not lifting 185 pounds or being 210 [pounds] coming in — I didn't let it affect me."
Durant and Ingram spent time together recently when Ingram joined the U.S. Select team that trained against Durant and Team USA before the Olympics. And as Durant looked across the Las Vegas court at Ingram, he saw his younger self.
"He reminds me of myself, but he's a little [further] along than I was at that stage," Durant says. "The first person I can say that I can look at him and I feel like I'm looking in a mirror."
"He's a little bit more fluid than I was," Durant says. "As far as skill wise, he's a little bit more advanced than I was at that time. I was just running, jumping, shooting 3s. But he can put the ball on the floor, change directions, get to the rim, shoot the pull-up 3. That stuff started to come a little bit later on for me."
Durant, it's worth noting, steadily added bulk through the years rather than all at once. A 2015 story by The Oklahoman noted that Durant weighed 212 as a rookie, 223 by 2009, 231 by 2011 and 237 by 2013, a gain of roughly 25 pounds over his first six NBA seasons — or a little more than four pounds per season. A slow pace, no doubt, but there are more obstacles than meet the eye for gaining, and maintaining, the right kind of weight in the NBA, especially for players built like Durant — and thus Brandon Ingram.
WHEN EVALUATING INGRAM, Allistair McCaw, a Florida-based sports performance specialist who has spent 22 years working with more than 500 athletes, including many Olympians, evokes the term "ectomorph." That might sound like an expression out of "Ghostbusters," but it refers to the body type shared by Durant and Ingram.
How much should Ingram eat?
Brian St. Pierre, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition, recommended that Ingram ingest eight palm-sized portions of protein per day, six to eight fist-sized portions of vegetables per day, 15-20 handfuls of carbs per day and 10-12 thumb-sized portions of fat per day. Graeme Close, a professor of human physiology and sports nutrition at Liverpool John Moores University, suggests a daily intake of 215 grams of protein. "That's right around seven large chicken breasts." Every. Day.
"Usually ectomorph's have long, thin limbs with stringy muscles and the shoulders tend to be thin with little width," McCaw says. "Ectomorphs find it hard to gain weight and have a fast metabolism. These guys can eat like a house and still not put on weight."
It can be even harder for young players who are still growing vertically to pack on pounds — and bulking up such a player presents a greater risk, says Grover, who notes that for young athletes whose growth plates haven't yet closed, gaining too much weight too quickly can increase risk of injury. "There's a lot of added pressure on your knees, on your hips, all that other stuff," Grover says, "because you're not accustomed to playing with all that weight."
Then there's age. Ingram will turn 19 on Sept. 2 and was the second-youngest player taken in the first round this summer behind Croatian 7-footer Dragan Bender. As Ingram ages, experts say, his metabolism will slow, and it'll be easier to gain weight.
"If the biggest problem Brandon Ingram has in the next five years is that he can't hold his position in the post, I think the Lakers will be very happy."
"He's 18. You're not drafting him for one season. This is for the long haul," says Brett Singer, a registered and licensed dietician at the Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute in Houston. "If his frame isn't perfect in the first year, that's OK. There are other things that he's got to work on other than just gaining weight."
David Thorpe, executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Florida, and an NBA writer for ESPN.com, says he actually rejects altogether the notion that Ingram must gain weight to play in the NBA. "I firmly believe he has to get stronger, [but] athletes get stronger. So do non-athletes," says Thorpe, who has worked in player development since 1993 with more than 70 NBA and hundreds of European basketball players. "This is a game of speed and skill. The list of skinny guys that lasted a long time is very, very long."
"Adding weight presents way more risk than reward. It's not going to make him jump higher, run faster or quicker. It might help him hold his position in the post, but did the Lakers draft him to put him in the post? If the biggest problem Brandon Ingram has in the next five years is that he can't hold his position in the post, I think the Lakers will be very happy."
Ingram's AAU coach and former NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse offers a similar view. "The skill set is there and you don't want to take away from [Ingram's] skill set by making him uncomfortable with bulkiness," he says. Some of the finishes that he has, [he] can contort his body and he's able to do that because he's long and he's skinny. If he was 20 pounds, 30 pounds heavier, would he be able to do that? I don't know."
IN 1989, WHEN Grover first worked with Michael Jordan, their goal was simple: five pounds a year. "We put on five pounds a year until he told me, 'This is where I feel comfortable at,' and then from there, we stopped," Grover says. For the 6-foot-6 Jordan, who was listed at 195 pounds when drafted in 1984, that ideal range eventually fell between 213 and 218 pounds.
What should Ingram eat?
Experts recommend diet that includes lean cuts of turkey, chicken, fish, pork, grass-fed bison and steak; eggs, organic whole milk (if he's not lactose intolerant), cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, brown rice, pasta, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, almond butter, peanut butter, olive oil, coconut oil, fresh fruit and vegetables. Oh, and many experts recommend protein shakes as a daily staple. St. Pierre, who has worked with the San Antonio Spurs, offered the following recipe — 16 ounces of whole milk, two servings of whey protein powder, one to two fistfuls of spinach, three to four handfuls of carbs (such as banana, berries, pineapples, maybe ice cream), two to three thumb-sized portions of healthy fats (such as two to three tablespoons of peanut butter).
Many sports nutritionists and athletic trainers interviewed for this article recommend Ingram gain about a half pound per week during the offseason and no more than five to 10 pounds per year, total — until, as Jordan once did, he reaches a weight where he believes he can best operate.
"That's why I say, put on the weight real slow," Grover says. "If you can put on 5-8 pounds of quality muscle [in a year], which is very hard to do, and see, 'How do you feel at this weight? How are you performing at this weight? Do you like it?' Great. OK, let's try to maintain this weight through this season.
"OK, next season, you want to try to bulk up a little bit more? Let's try to put on a little bit more weight. How do you feel? 'Ah, I'm not feeling right. My movements are a little bit slow.' OK, let's back off a little bit.
"You have to get input from the player, because, obviously, he's the one out on the court, performing, and he's going to know how he moves, how he feels, better than anybody else. It's where the weight is put on, too. It can't be all upper-body weight. It's got to be distributed throughout the upper body, throughout the core, through the legs, throughout the whole body. Front, back and side to side."
Once the player has gained weight, the trick, according to Jill Lane, a Dallas-based sports nutritionist, is keeping it on during a long NBA season, "because halfway through the season, they're in catabolic breakdown mode, which is just a science term when the body starts to break down."
Ingram faces yet another obstacle because of the role he figures to play. "Assuming Brandon is going to be in the rotation, he's going to be playing quite a bit of minutes," Grover says of Ingram, who played just 1,246 minutes in his collegiate career. "So it makes the challenge even greater — not only to put on the weight, [but] maintain it, keep his calories up and everything else."
JUST AS A player must train to play basketball or lift weights, so too must one train to consume large quantities of food. "And a mistake a lot of individuals make is they try to go from eating what they normally eat to all of the sudden trying to eat 6,000 to 8,000 calories [per day]," Grover says. "It looks good for TV. It looks good for the magazine when you take a picture that shows all the food that's in front of me, but you cannot just consume that amount of calories if you're not accustomed to it. You have to work your way up to it."
When Grover works with a player, he first gauges what the athlete eats per day, then increases it steadily — say from 2,500 calories per day to 3,000 — based on how the athlete's body responds.
"Because what's going to happen is: When you take out all the empty calories, or the bad food, and you put in the good food, the initial process is the person is going to end up losing weight," Grover says. "You're going to increase their metabolic rate. They're eating better calories that get burned a lot quicker, that don't store as fat. So the process is, when you start this high-calorie diet, you end up actually losing weight before you end up putting on weight."
What should Ingram avoid?
Common sense comes into play here. "Foods to avoid regular intake of include excess consumption of anything that is 'pro-inflammatory,' as that can stunt recovery and training … things like fried foods, refined carbs like cookies, cakes, sodas and sweets and alcohol," Lane says. "Alcohol is particularly interesting because it also is dehydrating, causing a whole other set of issues for an athlete." Longtime trainer Tim Grover, who famously worked with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, points out, as other experts do, that not all calories are created equal. "You can get in 5,000 junk calories if all you did was eat candy bars, pizzas and cakes and you drank two liters of soda," Grover says. "You'd get it in there, but guess what, yeah, you're going to put on 10-15 pounds, but it ain't going to be the 10-15 pounds that you want."
Consider Kevin Love, who has transformed his body in recent years and shed considerable weight after altering his diet. "Whoever he used as a trainer increased his caloric intake tremendously," Grover says, "but they gave him the right foods to eat and when to eat them. And now look at him. He's eating probably three times the food he was eating when he was younger, but he's eating the right types of food and look at the difference in the way he looks."
Ingram, for his part, has changed — dramatically. No longer does he consume 5,000 calories every 24 hours. "I tried before, but I just eat what I can during the day," he says. "Whenever my reminder comes up, if I'm not hungry, I still try to eat a little something just to get through the day." And no longer does he aim to weigh 210 by the fall. "I actually don't have a goal right now," Ingram says. He preaches patience. He tells himself the weight will come. "I know we have good trainers," he says. "I'll just listen to them."
How much sleep does Ingram need?
Several experts strongly recommend eight to 10 hours of rest per night for Ingram. Sleep and rest are absolutely critical," Graeme Close says. "We don't grow muscle when we're walking around." If Ingram wants to maximize the work he's putting in on the court, then he should also consider avoiding the nightlife scene, which, of course, is easier said than done for NBA players. "He probably needs to have a quiet life away from training in order to give his body time to recover and grow," Close says.
The Lakers, having endured all sorts of criticism over the past five years for outdated approaches and processes, seem, in this case, to be in line with experts' current thinking. And they are sending clear signals that they're inclined to let Ingram take his time filling out. "He's young," says Luke Walton, the Lakers' new head coach. "He'll grow into it."
General manager Mitch Kupchak, for his part, references former teammate Michael Cooper, a 6-foot-5, 170-pound defensive ace during the Lakers' Showtime era. "Michael competed and was fearless, but he never put on an ounce," Kupchak says. "Obviously, the kid needs to get stronger, and he will, but the important thing is that [Ingram] is fearless and he competes."
The Lakers are not only patient but want to protect Ingram to the point of declining interview requests with their nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach in part because they see no upside to further stories about his weight.
"It's going to happen," Kupchak says. "Naturally."
NEARLY A DECADE ago, on a late June night inside Madison Square Garden, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that the Portland Trail Blazers had selected center Greg Oden with the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, and then ESPN's cameras turned to Durant, who was seated at a nearby table with family.
While Oden celebrated and fitted a crisp Trail Blazers hat atop his head, the 18-year-old Durant offered a classic runner-up smile, one that felt more forced than natural, that hid the bulk of whatever disappointment he might have felt but didn't hide it altogether.
In the months, weeks, days and even hours leading up to the draft, a fierce debate had raged about whether Portland should select Durant, an otherworldly wing whose combination of versatility and shooting and size seemed all but unprecedented, or Oden, a dominant rebounding, shot-blocking 7-footer who appeared to be the NBA's next great wrecking ball beneath the rim.
The argument divided NBA fans and front offices alike. Durant represented an NBA revolution of sorts. Oden was a nod to the past, when great big men anchored championship teams. Pros and cons were tallied, but one theme kept bubbling to the surface — their bodies. "You're looking at a guy who is a physical specimen in Greg versus a very skilled guy in Kevin," Trail Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard had told reporters before the draft.
For everything that Durant was, he was also rail-thin; the muscular 273-pound Oden already looked like an NBA veteran. After the Seattle Supersonics chose Durant with the second pick, he kissed his mother, affixed a Sonics cap to his dome and approached the stage in a slender black suit that still hung loose on his scarecrow frame. Moments later, Durant sat down to an interview with ESPN's Stuart Scott, whose second question began as follows:
"At the pre-draft camp, everyone knows you couldn't bench press 185 pounds and it raised the eyebrows of a lot of critics," Scott told Durant. "If you were a GM and you had heard that about a guy that you were potentially going to draft, what would that have made you think?"
"It would've made me think nothing," Durant replied without hesitating. "If a guy can play basketball, a guy can play basketball. I really wasn't worried about that too much. I was just worried about this day. I'm glad I'm going to Seattle."
Singer, for his part, sees great irony in the moment. "Greg Oden goes first," he says. "Oden was thicker, more muscular.
"And look who's still here."