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Number One Recruit Kyrie Irving arrives in Durham by J.D. King

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yrie Irving didn’t choose jersey #1. It chose him. More specifically, head coach Mike Krzyzewski picked it for him as an outward sign of the important role the highly touted rookie figures to play for Duke this season. It’s a gesture that shouldn’t be understated. No Blue Devil player has ever worn the single digit. Jason Williams asked for it when he first arrived as a standout freshman. But Krzyzewski nixed the idea. “Duke is number one,” he told the future All-America. Duke is still number one, having earned its fourth national championship by beating Butler in Indianapolis last April. In order to stay that way, though, it’s going to take a big performance from a quick, talented teenager only a couple of months removed from high school. No freshman point guard has been asked to play as substantial a role for the Blue Devils since another cocky

Jersey kid named Bobby Hurley two decades ago. As was the case with Hurley, Krzyzewski feels comfortable enough with Irving’s ability and maturity to hand him “the keys to the Ferrari”—as Irving put it—from the first day he set foot on campus. So comfortable that he even gave him the #1 to prove it. “Coach K basically put that number on me,” Irving said. “He didn’t force it on me. I just basically took it as a trust thing. He’s entrusting the team’s success on me and that number says he thinks I can do it. Coming from him, that is very special to me.” Special is a word often used by others to describe Irving. At 6'2", 175 pounds, he is a unique combination of quickness, agility, athleticism, vision, and poise. He is a true point guard who can make others around him better, but isn’t shy about taking the ball to the basket and scoring, himself.

© 2010 Maple Street Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Devil Tip-Off 2010–2011 | 51


It’s an ability that helped him average 24 points, seven assists, and five rebounds per game as a senior at St. Patrick’s High in Elizabeth, NJ, and already has him projected as the third overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by NBADraft.net. Irving is such a special talent that Krzyzewski has already announced plans to completely rebuild his offense to fit the youngster’s strengths. Gone is the plodding, halfcourt, defense-oriented style the Blue Devils rode to last year’s title. In its place will be a much faster paced attack, one more typical of Duke teams of the past. The only difference is that this one won’t be quarterbacked by tested veterans such as senior captains Kyle Singler or Nolan Smith, both of whom are back from the championship team. It will be led by a kid whose next college basketball start will be his first. “We’ll change our whole offense, the way we play because of Kyrie,” Krzyzewski said at his annual summer press conference. “Last season, we didn’t have a guard who could make things happen for other people. And Kyrie can do that.” When asked to compare Irving with another point guard he’s seen or coached, Krzyzewski said his new point guard reminds him of a young Chris Paul because of “his toughness and his ability to change directions with the dribble.” Paul, the former Wake Forest star who now plays for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, was a key factor in helping Coach K and Team USA win the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Krzyzewski makes no bones about the fact that Irving can have a similar effect on this year’s Duke team, especially with the talent and experience he’ll have around him on the court. The youngster has already begun bonding with the Blue Devils’ resident stars by playing on the same summer

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Irving showcased his athleticism with an impressive performance at the 2010 Jordan Brand Classic.

© 2010 Maple Street Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo on previous page: Larr y Busacca/Getty Images  Photo at top: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images 

With Duke’s athleticism vastly improved this season, and a potentially great point guard running the show, the days of Coach K urging his team to slow down are over.

league team as Singler and treating Smith like the big brother he never had, constantly tagging along with the senior wherever he goes. “We have veteran players to help Kyrie make his adjustment and I have a lot of confidence in Kyrie,” Krzyzewski said. “Kyrie will be very, very good right away. There’s absolutely no question about that. He’s that good a basketball player.” Coach K is hardly the first to come to that realization. People have been amazed at Irving’s skills since he learned to dribble at 13 months old and began sinking baskets into a regulation ten-foot hoop at the age of four. As he’s grown and progressed, so has his reputation. Scouts have been foaming at the mouth over Irving since he burst onto the scene following a strong sophomore season in 2007. He is rated by most services as the #1 point guard (and #3 overall recruit) in this year’s freshman class—a standing he backed up on the court this summer. The new Blue Devil scored 13 points in just 18 minutes to rank second on his team in the McDonald’s All-American game. He followed that by being named co-MVP, along with UNC recruit Harrison Barnes, at the Jordan Brand Classic before leading the US National Team to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas Under-18 tournament in June. Irving punctuated that tournament with a 21-point, ten-rebound, five-assist

Photo at bottom: Jeff Zelavansky/Getty Images

2010–2011 BLUE DEVILS


Photo: Larr y Busacca/Getty Images

Number One Recruit performance in an 81–78 victory against Brazil that clinched the championship. Closer to his new home, Irving has already impressed fans and future teammates and opponents in the Triangle with his strong play in the NC Pro-Am summer league. Despite the presence of established college stars and current NBA players including All-Star Kevin Durant and first overall NBA Draft pick John Wall, there were times where Irving looked like the best player on the floor, including one game in which he scored 35 points. Even more impressive than the statistics was the confidence with which Irving played. The greater the number of people watching and the tougher the opponent, the more he seems to thrive. “I don’t really believe in pressure,” Irving said. “I see it as an opportunity. Being the Duke point guard, there are expectations, but I plan on exceeding those expectations. I’ve always had confidence in myself and my ability. As long as Coach K and my teammates have trust in me and each other, that’s all we need right there.” Just don’t confuse Irving’s confidence for cockiness. Although he can strut with the best of them and do his share of trash talking—as he showed in a popular YouTube video in which he went one-on-three against future Tar Heels Barnes, Kendall Marshall, and Reggie Bullock at the McDonald’s game—Irving is the prototypical gym rat. On his Twitter page, which at last count had nearly 8,000 followers, he describes himself as “a regular kid who enjoys life and thanks God for every day I’ve walked this earth.” He punctuates many of his posts with the initials “H&H,” which translates to Hungry & Humble. It’s a motto he’s lived by since when he was seven years old and he first wrote it on his gym bag. Irving backs the slogan up by spending hours upon hours in the weight room and the gym, working, sweating, and searching for that one little advantage that at some point will help him pull his team through in crunch time. “I love to work out,” he said. “I love being in the gym. I love playing basketball. My work ethic is why I am where I am today.” That, and the influence of his father, who was a pretty good ballplayer in his own right. With 1,931 career points, Dederick Irving still ranks second on the Boston University career scoring list. After college, he went on to play professionally in Australia, the country in which Kyrie was born. To this day, Irving lists his dad as the best player he’s ever faced. But basketball only begins to define the relationship between this father and son. Because Kyrie’s mother died when he was only six, Dederick has had to play an even greater role in his son’s development both as a player and a person. “He’s been very important to me,” Kyrie said. “If I have

Irving (left) wasn’t afraid to let Harrison Barnes (right) know he made a mistake by choosing UNC. a chance to realize my dream by making it to the NBA, I’ll dedicate all my success to him, because he showed me all the stuff it would take to reach my potential.” Because Irving believes he is still just “beginning to scratch the surface” of that potential, he’s reluctant to put a timetable on how long it will take before he makes the inevitable move up to the professional ranks. It could be after this season, as many are predicting. Then again, it could just as easily be two or three years from now, depending on circumstances that have yet to be determined. Either way, Irving says he’s in no hurry to make any decisions. He’s just excited to have the opportunity to play for the best coach in the college game today, in a building full of Crazies, against some of the nation’s most intense competition. “There are so many factors at play with me,” said Irving, who wasted little time settling into life at Duke by attending several Durham Bulls baseball games and finding the nearest Waffle House to satisfy his late-night cravings for chocolate chip waffles. “I’m not planning on being one-and-done. I’m just going in with my head on my shoulders straight. There’s already enough pressure filling the shoes of Jon Scheyer and running the Duke program without talking about when I might leave. I’m just going to enjoy playing basketball and when the time is right, I’ll know when that is.” One of the things Irving is looking forward to most at Duke is getting his chance to take part in college basketball’s most heated rivalry. He always knew Blue Devils’ games against

© 2010 Maple Street Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Blue Devil Tip-Off 2010–2011 | 53


2010–2011 BLUE DEVILS

the hated Tar Heels were big, he just didn’t realize how big until he watched the HBO documentary Battle for Tobacco Road just before leaving home for school in late August. “I didn’t realize it was that special until I sat down and watched that whole movie,” Irving said. “I finished watching it and was like, ‘Wow, that’s a big rivalry.’ It’s going to even more special for me because I have a lot of friends over there at North Carolina. I’ve gotten to know a lot of their guys and we all want to win, so it should be fun.” Though he has yet to play his first game against the Tar Heels, Irving has already gotten a taste of what the DukeUNC rivalry is all about. First, he raised the ire of Tar Heel coach Roy Williams—if only tongue-in-cheek—by not only choosing to play for the Blue Devils, but by transferring from Kimberley High in Montclair, NJ, to St. Patrick’s, where his presence at the point unintentionally stunted the development of current UNC guard Dexter Strickland. “I’m really mad at Kyrie,” Williams said at the time, only half joking. “[St. Patrick’s coach] Kevin Boyle was going to play Dexter at the point his senior year and Dexter’s never played the point, and I thought that’s what he was going to be in college.” Irving further fueled the flames of the rivalry in that now famous YouTube video shot before the McDonald’s game in Columbus, OH. In it, Irving quietly sits by and listens while Barnes, Bullock, and Marshall pepper him, and Duke, with insults. Finally, Irving gets his turn and immediately shuts the trio up by mentioning that the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels by 32 in their most recent meeting. He then turned to Barnes, and with mock disappointment

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in his voice said, “Harrison, you were supposed to come to Duke with me and you didn’t... And it broke my heart!” All kidding aside, it’s clear that Irving’s blood already runs Blue Devil blue, which is the way it figured to be given his background. Yet in spite of the natural connection and Krzyzewski’s tradition of recruiting great point guards from New Jersey, Irving didn’t grow up dreaming about going to Duke and wearing the same uniform as Hurley and Williams. It wasn’t until assistant coaches Chris Collins and Nate James started showing up at his AAU games two summers ago that his interest in coming to Durham began to be piqued. “Duke has a special program,” Irving said. “It’s a great opportunity that I plan to take full advantage of. I knew I could play on the biggest stage of college basketball, and what better place is there to do it than at Duke?” Collins said he could see right away that there was a special quality about Irving in the way he embraced the idea of playing under the game’s brightest spotlight. “When you are the point guard at Duke, no mater what your credentials are, you’re going to have high expectations and you’re going to have pressure,” Collins said. “I think it’s one of the reasons he chose to come to Duke, because of that pressure.” It’s a pressure that will only be heightened by the #1 he’ll wear on his jersey this season. Even if it chose him, not the other way around. MSP

J.D. King is a lifelong Duke fan who grew up in and around Cameron Indoor Stadium, where his family has held the same seats for over 50 years. He is also the editor of Duke Basketball Report, the oldest and most popular Duke website.

© 2010 Maple Street Press, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

An easy prediction: Kyrie Irving will be a favorite of the Cameron Crazies from day one.

Number One Recruit  

Kyrie Irving arrives in Durham

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