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'We need you': Harrison Ingram brings versatile skill set to UNC men's basketball

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UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) looking at the basket to get a rebound at the men’s basketball scrimmage versus St. Augustine’s on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023 in the Dean E. Smith Center. The Tar Heels won 117-53.

When Harrison Ingram entered the transfer portal this offseason, seven words from head coach Hubert Davis sold him on coming to UNC.

“We don’t want you. We need you.”

The junior forward for the UNC men's basketball team will bring his versatile play style over from Stanford to a North Carolina offense that struggled at times last season, ranking 13th out of 15 ACC teams in field goal percentage. Off the court, his humor and fun-loving attitude have helped create a sense of brotherhood in the UNC locker room, which goes far for a team that's bringing in seven new faces.

‘Finally, you're here’

As a McDonald’s All-American and a consensus five-star recruit coming out of Dallas, Texas, Ingram's future seemed bright. 

His college decision came down to UNC, Purdue and Stanford.

Ingram said he mainly talked with former head coach Roy Williams and former assistant coach Steve Robinson. Ingram said he and Williams were close, but he also joked that when he tried calling Williams to tell him he wasn’t coming to UNC, Williams never answered the phone.

At Stanford, the forward averaged 10.5 points per game, earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2022. When push came to shove this offseason, though, he had to do what was best for his basketball career.

“I feel like the spot was wide open on the biggest stage and [at] one of the biggest basketball schools in history,” Ingram said. “You can't get better than this.”

He said Davis recruited him every day while he was in the transfer portal, calling and FaceTiming him. Davis even tried to come to his house twice.

The day Ingram arrived at UNC's campus, he ran into Williams for the first time since the phone incident. 

“Finally, you're here,” the legendary coach told him.

‘Like a dream'

Ingram’s 'welcome to UNC' moment came about a week after moving to Chapel Hill. Still jet-lagged and laying in bed at 2 a.m., he was bored and went to the gym. That was where it finally hit him —  standing there all alone, nobody else but him and a basket.

“I'm looking around like, ‘This is crazy,’” Ingram said. “It was like a dream.”

In practices so far this season, Ingram said Davis has him “doing a little bit of everything" — coming off ball screens, isolating on the wing and in the post and guarding one through five.

Ingram’s ability to move the ball, though, could be his biggest asset. His 121 assists ranked 11th in the nation among forwards last season. For a UNC team that finished 310th in assist rate across all Division I teams last season, Ingram's playmaking could prove a much-needed addition.

“When you mention RJ [Davis], Elliot [Cadeau] and Harrison, instinctively, yes, they can score, but instinctively they like the pass, they like to be a playmaker,” Davis said. “And so when you have that type of player out there on the floor, it really helps with sharing the basketball.”

Ingram is ready to demonstrate some new additions to his game as well. He said he has been working on his athleticism, losing 18 pounds from last season — he won't share his exact weight now, but promised it's "down there." And after working out with Brandon Payne – Stephen Curry's trainer – he noted his shooting “has gotten way, way better."

Most importantly, though, Ingram wants to prove that he's a winner — he interrupted reporters at UNC's media day in October to emphasize that point. It's something he said he wasn’t able to showcase at Stanford, which finished last season with a 14-19 record.

‘A family right away’

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Ingram’s chemistry with his teammates has grown organically. He lived with graduate forward Jae’lyn Withers and graduate guard Paxson Wojcik in a dorm over the summer, and they moved into an apartment together for the school year. 

“[Ingram's] my homeboy,” Withers said, later adding, “He's hilarious. He has the most spontaneous and random personality ever. But outside of that, I think he's just a character.”

His personality is the thing most of his teammates noted first about Ingram. He knows when he needs to be serious, but in general, he is loud, light-hearted and “a goofy dude.” 

“He lights the day up just with his personality,” graduate forward Armando Bacot said. “We've been so fortunate to have him, and he's been a great teammate and a great competitor, and he does all the right things.”

Despite coming in a month late from Stanford, Ingram said the team “was a family right away.” He said getting to know former players and seeing UNC greats like Williams and Tyler Hansbrough come back so often made it feel that way.

Ingram will become a part of that family when he plays his first game in Carolina Blue on Nov. 6. And, as Davis told him during the offseason, this team doesn't just want Ingram to be a big part of a national championship run — they will need him to be.

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com