CHAPEL HILL — Move over Jerry Stackhouse. Have a seat Reggie Bullock.
Kinston, North Carolina, the birthplace of professional athletes such as Dwight Clark, Charles Shackleford, Quinton Coples and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, has two more local legends to add to the list. And they haven’t even graduated from high school yet.
Saturday at the Dean E. Smith Center, Kinston High School defeated East Lincoln High School 60-43 in the NCHSAA 2A title game. With the win, the Vikings became the first 2A school in North Carolina history to win four consecutive state titles. However, the bigger story was that of seniors Brandon Ingram and Darnell Dunn.
Ingram, the game’s Most Valuable Player, and Dunn, the East Most Outstanding Player, became the first players in NCHSAA history to win four state championships. Ingram and Dunn were reserves as freshmen, but along the way their roles grew. With growing roles from the duo, KHS just kept winning and winning and winning.
The town of Kinston, with a population of 21, 677, is no stranger to breeding successful athletes. Stackhouse left KHS and became an All-American at UNC and a multiple NBA All-Star. Bullock followed Stackhouse to Carolina and is in his second year in the NBA. Dwight Clark is a San Francisco 49ers legend for for his role in “The Catch” back in the 1982 NFC Championship game.
But on Saturday, they were all second fiddle to Dunn and Ingram.
Kinston serves as the basketball epicenter in the state of North Carolina. The Vikings have played in 21 state championship games, and have made it to the title game seven times in the last nine season. Kinston has played in the state title game in all four NCHSAA classifications. When people in Eastern North Carolina think basketball, they think Kinston. Now when they think Kinston basketball, they will automatically think Ingram and Dunn.
“These seniors,” KHS head coach Perry Tyndall said, “What they mean to Kinston basketball is unreal. It is absolutely incredible, historical, amazing what they’ve done. These guys have taken me on a ride.”
Ingram, a McDonalds All-American who gains most of the attention, triggered the run that secured the final ring of his career. He personally went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter, putting the Vikings ahead 38-28. Recruited by all the big-time programs (UNC, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA), Ingram, a 6-9 Kevin Durant clone, showed in that personal run why the coaches of those programs have flocked to Lenoir County.
He started his run with a short jumper, followed that with a dunk while drawing a foul. On the next possession he attacked the rim for a layup and knocked down a three, just to show he had range.
“They (my teammates) tell me what they need and I’ll do anything for my team to win,” Ingram said. “I knew I had to do something. I started attacking the rim and shots started opening up.”
By the time he was done, the big crowd of fans wearing green and gold could sense title No. 4 was close. With Stackhouse cheering on the team from behind the bench and the final seconds ticking off the clock, the Kinston fans pulled out ready-made newspapers with the huge headline “4 IN A ROW” on the front.
That message was for the entire program, but might as well been a shoutout to Dunn and Ingram on their historical feat.
“I feel like we put a lot into the program,” Dunn said after scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds. “This shows that it really paid off.”
Ingram described the feeling as “unreal.” He said the entire week had been emotional, knowing it would be his last time in a Kinston uniform. But he went out to the tune of 28 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.
“You can say we had pressure (of winning four),” Ingram said. “But the guys in the locker room took all the pressure off of us.”
Both Dunn and Ingram, along with classmate Mykel Hart, who won his third ring, gave praise to the Kinston community. They all honored players who have come before them – Stackhouse, Bullock, Maxwell – plus accept their status in the Kinston community. Tyndall noted how there are youngsters now in Kinston who idolize Dunn and Ingram, hoping to be the next in line on the growing list of talented basketball players in the tiny town west of Greenville.
Ingram and Dunn each said this one, the final ring, meant the most. This one was special to Dunn because he had a bigger role on the team. Ingram agreed, saying this one stood out because it was his last run with his childhood friends.
After the horn sounded, Ingram had a long embrace with Stackhouse, who told the top recruit that he made Kinston proud.
“I think it was just hard work,” Ingram responded when asked the secret to winning four in a row. “I think I got more serious, you know, being a leader and having guys look up to me, and I really thought about what I could do for my town. It’s fun coming here (the state championship) and not knowing what it feels like to lose.”
When he won his first one in 2012, Dunn had no idea he would be adding not one, not two, but three more rings to his collection, making history along with way.
“I was just happy with the first one,” Dunn said. “Every year I felt like we cleaned our plates, we had a new mindset. We forgot about the last one … as much as the community brought it up. Everybody was always expected us to win. But our coaches and the guys who left before us always focused on the next one.”
So with a historic four-peat, and he and Ingram riding off into the sunset accomplishing something that has never been done before, is this KHS senior class the best ever?
“I don’t know,” Dunn said after much thought. “You have to be confident in yourself … there have been a lot of great players, so I can’t really say that, but I think we are pretty good.”