1-On-1 With UNC Star Harrison Ingram;
Stanford Transfer Helping Heels Click

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

In the aftermath of North Carolina’s disappointing 2022-23 season, in which the Tar Heels infamously went from the preseason #1 team to missing the NCAA Tournament, coach Hubert Davis had a long checklist of areas that needed improvement.

UNC, last in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 3-point shooting a year ago, desperately needed help in that category. Near the bottom of the league in assists, assist-turnover ratio and turnover margin, the Heels also were seeking players who were skilled, unselfish passers at the offensive end but also intense, disruptive forces on defense.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Carolina needed players who combined fearlessness (the last two Caleb Love-RJ Davis teams had plenty of that) with better on-court chemistry, more positive body language, and higher levels of emotional consistency, vibrant leadership and basketball IQ.

In Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram, the Heels found immediate, high-level help in every single one of those areas.

A 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward from Dallas, Texas, Ingram quickly has become the Tar Heels’ human Swiss army knife, someone whose offensive and defensive versatility have helped make this year’s Carolina team (17-3, 9-0 ACC entering its Jan. 30 game at Georgia Tech) one of the best in the entire country.

On offense, Ingram posts up against smaller opponents, slashes to the basket off the dribble, converts efficiently from 3-point range (41 percent), keeps possessions alive with offensive rebounds (top 10 in the ACC) and routinely finds open teammates.

On defense, Ingram is among the best in the ACC for both physical and mental reasons. He’s quick and athletic enough to defend most guards, long/strong enough to effectively battle most post players, and extremely savvy when it comes to defensive rebounding (top 10 in the ACC), body positioning and knowing his opponents’ tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.

Ingram’s wide array of talents must be seen to be fully appreciated, but they also show up on the stat sheet. He’s the Tar Heels’ third-leading scorer (12.4 points per game), second-leading rebounder (8.6 per game) and second-best 3-point shooter (34 makes; 41 percent). He also ranks first on the team in steals and fourth in blocked shots, and his outstanding assist-turnover ratio (49-30) ranks behind only ball-handling guards RJ Davis and Elliot Cadeau.

Ingram’s six double-doubles (points and rebounds) this season rank fourth in the league and further underline his versatility. The only ACC players with as many or more double-doubles are much taller and/or bigger guys: UNC’s Armando Bacot (6-11/240), Miami’s Norchad Omier (6-7/240), Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (7-0/248) and Boston College’s Quinten Post (7-0/235).

Ingram, who was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and helped Team USA to the FIBA U-19 World Cup gold medal in 2021, recently joined the David Glenn Show for a lengthy, 1-on-1 interview on the North Carolina Sports Network. This is Part One of that conversation.

DG: Before we get to basketball, we’ve read that your mother and father, Vera and Tyrous, own and operate dozens of McDonald’s franchises in the Dallas area. What do you remember about that aspect of your family life when you were growing up?

Ingram: Definitely, the first thing is how blessed I was growing up. I went on vacations. I had everything I wanted. I lived in nice neighborhoods. Growing up like that was a blessing. We went on trips. I’ve been to every country you can think of.

When I was younger, my parents would make me, my older brother, William, and my younger sister, Lauren … every once in a while, we’d go and work in the restaurants and kinda see how stuff was run.

I know my mom really wanted us to know how hard they had to work to get there. They both did not grow up rich. They both grew up … not poor, but kinda lower-middle class. Seeing how they grinded really helps me today.

DG: In today’s Name-Image-Likeness world, folks may wonder: Do you eat at McDonald’s? Do you have an NIL deal with McDonald’s

Ingram: I do eat at McDonald’s (laughs), but I don’t have a deal (NIL) yet. Not yet. Me and my dad, we’re still working on that one.

DG: We’re still getting to know you here in ACC country, but it’s already obvious that you’re an intelligent guy and an incredibly aggressive basketball player, and your teammates talk about other fun aspects of your personality. Which of those things, or other things, do you think you got from your mom and dad?

Ingram: Definitely, from my mom and dad, it was a work ethic. That’s the first thing I got.

Nothing is given to you in life. I have to work for everything. I always went to a tough academic high school and academic any school, really; I went to private school my whole life. Academics were always pretty tough.

So it was working hard on and off the court, two things that I gained from them.

And the main thing is to live your life however you want it, and to not worry about what other people think about you, whether it’s my hair (points to his head), or how I look, or how I talk, or the smile I have on my face when I play basketball, or anything. If someone doesn’t like it, just live your life.

DG: You have an in-your-face fearlessness aspect of your game, and you seem to have it whether you’re at the Smith Center or in a hostile environment, like those you often see on the road in the ACC. Does that approach to basketball come naturally for you, or is it something you had to work on and develop over the years

Ingram: I definitely think it’s ramped up ever since I got to UNC.

I’ve always been an aggressive player. I’m very competitive; I hate losing. Literally, you name it, anything you want to do, I hate losing in it.

So when it gets on to the court, and the game starts, I just can’t control myself. I’m so excited. I’m so happy, just having a good time out there, whether it’s in a game or even in practice, honestly. In practice, we’re all chirping at each other, talking smack, and just getting in each others’ face and trying to get each other better, no matter how we do it.

DG: That type of intensity, with and against your teammates, goes beyond basketball. We’ve read about tic-tac-toe, hangman and other competitions with your teammate RJ Davis. We’ve seen you involved in on-campus chess matches. What can you tell us about those off-the-court aspects of your competitive nature?

Ingram: That’s definitely another thing I gained from my parents — not just focusing only on basketball.

I didn’t play only basketball until my ninth-grade year. In middle school, I played lacrosse, water polo, you name it, football. If you name a sport, I played it. Chess? I love playing chess. I love playing video games.

It’s kinda just not always focusing everything on basketball. I’m more than a basketball player. I’m more than an athlete. (I also enjoy) using my brainpower, using my IQ, that I was blessed with from God, to my advantage.

DG: You and RJ have both become famous for your competitiveness. Are your various battles close enough to a 50-50 winning percentage that nobody gets bragging rights?

Ingram: RJ is my guy, but between me and you, I win usually 95 percent of the time. (Smiles.) That’s my point guard, so I gotta give him some wins every once in a while, to keep his confidence high. (Smiles.)

DG: Take us back to September 2020. You’re early in your senior year at Saint Mark’s High School in Dallas, the world is dealing with a pandemic, and UNC — one of your finalists — is coming off a disastrous 14-19 season under coach Roy Williams, with Hubert Davis as one of his assistants. At that time, what went into you picking Stanford, then and now led by long-time UNC assistant Jerod Haase, instead of the Tar Heels, Harvard, Howard University, Michigan, Purdue or any of your other finalists?

Ingram: Definitely the relationship I built with Coach Haase.

In my four years (of high school), he came to a lot of my events, my games. Literally, he came to a lot of different things that weren’t even basketball-related. So obviously that, and the education that Stanford gives.

And really the main thing was, I wanted the opportunity to kinda impact right away, and I knew that going to Stanford I’d have a big role, I’d have targets on my back right away. I’d be high in the (opponents’) scouting report, and it would just make my game tougher. I just felt like that was the best way I could help my game.

Now, coming to UNC, it’s a new coach. So Coach (Hubert) Davis, he had to re-recruit me. Coach Williams … I loved him as a coach, but I also knew, in the back of my mind, I knew that at any point in those four years he could have retired. He ended up retiring (in the spring of) my senior year of high school. That kind of played into the (original) decision, too.

DG: During your first year of college basketball, you were the Pac-12’s Freshman of the Year, but Stanford didn’t make the postseason. Were you watching March Madness when first-year head coach Hubert Davis and the Tar Heels made their stunning run to the NCAA title game?

Ingram: I definitely watched that. It was fun to watch them play. I mean, Caleb Love hit big shots, RJ was big, Armando was big, Coach Davis, Brady Manek, you name it. All of the players were big in that run that they made.

For me, coming to UNC, I really liked the way Coach Davis played. They play fast. Four (perimeter players) out, one (post player) in. Freedom basketball. We’re playing a lot faster this year than they have.

But watching that (2022) run, and watching how Coach Davis gets his guys the rock, and gets his guys confidence … I mean, those guys had the most confidence I’ve ever seen basketball players play with. I couldn’t think of a better coach to play for.

DG: As a sophomore, you had another good year personally, but Stanford had another rough record. When you put your name in the transfer portal, did you already know you wanted to play at Carolina, or did you have to go through the entire recruiting process again?

Ingram: A little bit of both. I kinda knew the rosters (of the schools recruiting him).

When I decided to go into the portal, it was like a three-week decision. It wasn’t just like, after the season, snap, I’m going into the portal. I mean, it was bigger than that. I really loved Stanford. I really loved, really still to this day, every minute at Stanford.

Me and my family, we had to think about our decision. At the end of the day, we looked at the rosters, and we knew that UNC was going to be one of the top ones. I knew it was going to be either UNC, Kansas or Kentucky. I was going to go to a big basketball program on the biggest stage, trying to get the brightest lights and all the eyes on me.

At the end of the day, UNC had a clear need for a wing, and I’m a wing. Coach Davis and the whole coaching staff came to my house. RJ and Armando were texting me. I mean, it just seemed like a perfect fit.

DG: You were quoted here in January saying, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball.” We could all guess what goes into that sort of statement, but we’d rather hear it from you. How many different things go into that kind of quote?

Ingram: First and foremost, we have to start with winning. I mean, we’re winning (17-3, 9-0 ACC, top-five national ranking) right now. We’re playing at a high level.

Second, these are just my best friends. I’ve never felt this connected to every single player on my team. Whether it’s a guy I hang out with every day or the guy I might hang out with every once in a while, I feel like we all have genuine relationships, and no one has any … there’s no beef. There’s never any problems on the team.

Everybody likes each other. We get along. We hang out all day — literally, all day. I’ve never been on a team that hangs out all day.

Third is how hard everyone plays. I mean, I feel like we are feeding off each other’s energy. If there’s a loose ball … for the last seven to 10 games, we’ve been the first team to loose balls, every rebound. On defense, we’ve been locking up.

Playing on a team like that, where all everyone wants to do is win, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than this.

Next time: Harrison Ingram, Part Two.