When Kyrie Irving committed to Duke this past week, the casual basketball fan may have asked, “What’s his game like? What can he do as a Blue Devil?”
In my opinion, the benefits that Kyrie brings to Durham are at least threefold: immediate talent, short-term and long-term recruiting.
Kyrie is a tremendous point guard. His high school coach, Kevin Boyle, said that Irving would be “as good as anybody who’s played in New Jersey.” That’s high praise in the context of Blue Devil history, considering the guards responsible for Duke’s three national titles, Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams, are both Jersey products.
Perhaps Boyle simply spoke too soon. Irving has gotten much, much better in the past year.
In August, Kyrie won MVP honors of the Nike Global Challenge by leading USA’s East squad to a comeback victory over a talented Canada squad. The event is arguably the most challenging prep showcase of the summer; not only are players representing themselves, but their country as well. Kyrie not only outplayed the competition, but he stood out on a team that also featured fellow 2010 top-10 recruits Josh Selby, Tobias Harris and Will Barton, cementing his status as an elite prospect.
Just days after his Duke announcement, Irving dominated the Eddie Griffin Challenge, an event that pits New Jersey and Pennsylvania high schoolers against each other. Again, Kyrie stole the show by taking over down the stretch and carried the New Jersey seniors over the Pennsylvania seniors. Kyrie dropped 12 assists to go along with 19 points, showing the Duke faithful what they have been missing since Chris Duhon – a true point guard.
Of course, Irving must improve some aspects of his game. To excel at Duke, he will have to improve defensively. Coach K demands a lot of his lead guards on defense (remember the way Ewing hounded Felton in the final seconds at Cameron in ’05?). In that same vein, Irving must hit the weight room if he wants to match up with bigger guards. If he can put on some weight and round out his game on the defensive side, he can become an All-ACC player.
On his Twitter, Kyrie loves to use the phrase “Hungry and Humble,” or H&H for short. This is the best attitude a Duke point guard can have. With the target on your back at all times, you must have the fire to win and the courage to keep getting better. With Kyrie’s natural talent and competitive drive, there is no limit for him at Duke and beyond.
Kyrie’s commitment makes Duke’s 2010 class a solid three-man group thus far, as he joins Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton in an already talented class.
But even the mild ACC fan has heard the name Harrison Barnes. After committing on Thursday, Kyrie told Highschoolhoop: “Harrison, he’s like a big brother to me and we talk all the time. He’s his own man and he’s gonna make his own decision. Whatever decision he makes, I’m gonna be happy for him.”
Despite Irving’s guarded attitude on Harrison’s recruitment, the possibility of having his “big brother” (and top high school player in the U.S.) at Duke with him must be exciting.
Barnes has been our number one target all along; Andre Dawkins pledged to get Barnes to Duke months before enrolling early. So could Kyrie’s commitment push Harrison over the edge? On paper, adding Barnes would make next year’s Blue Devils among the most talented teams in Duke history. The guard core is already staggering: Irving and Thornton will join Nolan, Andre, Seth and a potential national player of the year in Kyle Singler (we can dream).
Irving will be the primary ball handler as soon as he is ready. Harrison’s versatility would permit him to play anywhere from the 2-4 spots, the ideal “combo guard/forward” with which Duke teams have thrived in the past (read: Grant Hill and Shane Battier). The two would make for scintillating Chronicle headlines for years to come.
During Kyrie’s visit to Duke, a sign hung over the archway on Towerview Drive that read, “NJ Guards Win Championships.” While Barnes watched Duke beat Pfeiffer on Saturday, students raised a banner reading, “The Tradition Continues,” with Harrison flanked by photos of national champions Hill and Battier. Could the potential point guard-wing forward duo of Irving and Barnes lead Duke to similar success?
Duke’s recruiting misses of the past 5 years have been well-documented. As such, Kyrie’s commitment represented a overpowering sense of satisfaction for hardcore Blue Devils, myself included. I had to watch “Duke locks” like Kenny Boynton and Greg Monroe go elsewhere. That’s all water under the bridge now! Kyrie is a top-5 player in the class of 2010, and may end up as the nation’s best high school point guard by the time the all-star games roll around next spring.
What effect will Irving have on future recruiting? Quickly, let me say that that depends entirely on how he plays in college. If by some diluvian catastrophe Kyrie doesn’t perform well at Duke, it would reflect poorly in future recruiting. But let’s be honest, is that even possible? Recruiting guru Dave Telep recently told us via Twitter that Kyrie would be a “9+” out of 10 in college. The best validation of Kyrie’s potential to lead this team is Coach K’s decision to let him wear #1 at Duke, something that apparently has never happened in Coach’s tenure. If we don’t trust K’s judgment in handing Irving the reins, what are we (and the Olympic team) doing?
So barring freak accident or hurricane, Kyrie will be a star and leader at Duke. The championships Duke has the potential to win in Kyrie’s tenure will continue to rejuvenate its image for recruits.
Perhaps equally important: Kyrie’s “hungry and humble” attitude will also motivate high school athletes to avoid the sketchy route of other star players and focus on improving their game and preparing for college. Irving is reportedly a great student at St. Patrick’s, and the quality Duke education he will receive will only further his success in the NBA and beyond. He is an innovator, too, using Twitter and live UStream broadcasts to connect with the fans. Kyrie has expressed his interest in studying journalism in college, and I could see him becoming a great basketball analyst following his NBA career. The possibilities for a young man like Kyrie are endless.
Duke fans have established a schema of the players who are “Duke kids.” Kyrie is certainly one of those—his work ethic, intelligence, and responsiveness to the big stages of basketball fit perfectly in the our tradition of talented guards.
Hopefully, Irving’s choice to attend Duke will represent a paradigm shift in our recruiting. Hopefully, everyone will want to be a Duke kid.
Video: Kyrie’s MVP highlights from the Nike Global Challenge.
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