NBA star Kyrie Irving: ‘I’m a Dukie for life’

lkeeley@newsobserver.comApril 18, 2013 

  • Then ... and now

    NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving showed flashes in his injury-marred season at Duke.

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— Assuming a leadership role on an NBA team isn’t necessarily easy for a 21-year-old superstar.

“It’s a lonely position,” Kyrie Irving said, “but it’s something I want to get used to and want to challenge myself to do.”

Irving is the point guard and centerpiece of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He won the NBA Rookie of the year last season and was named an All-Star this season.

“It’s been a short but long process,” Irving said before Wednesday night’s final game against the Bobcats. “I’m the youngest on the team again, but I’m just getting used to it.”

When he needs advice on leadership, he turns to three people: his father, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott and his mentor, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Irving’s time in Durham was brief, a one-year stay in which he only played 11 games due to a right toe injury. But he still feels a strong connection to the school.

“I’m a Dukie for life,” Irving said. “I was part of something great at Duke. It’s a brotherhood that continues on today.”

When Irving arrived on Duke’s campus in the summer of 2010, he became fast friends with the two other players in his class, Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston. Both are still in Durham, preparing for their final year.

The three were nearly inseparable – they lived in a triple together on Duke’s East campus, took the same classes and shared most meals. And ever since Irving left Duke, Thornton and Hairston have planned summer vacations to visit and work out with him.

Irving has frequently returned to Duke to work out as well. And when he was back on campus last August, he, Hairston and Thornton looked at the Cavaliers schedule. They saw the April 17th game against the Bobcats and made plans to see each other then.

“We all looked up the date of the national championship (game), and we knew that we’d be done by that time,” Hairston said. “We knew we would be able to make this trip.”

So Wednesday night, Hairston, Thornton and Quinn Cook, who committed to Duke while Irving was on the team, drove to Charlotte. The four spent the evening together, and Thornton and Hairston posted pictures of the group with the caption “family.”

“Those are my best friends,” Irving said.

Irving keeps tabs on his former teammates, whom he talks to nearly every day. Hairston has the Cavaliers set as one of his favorite teams on the ESPN app on his phone so he can track his friend.

“His team is one of my notifications,” Hairston said. “So, if he’s hurt or he’s playing well, I’ll know.”

Irving has been injury-prone, and he missed time this year with a broken left index finger and left shoulder sprain. His lack of durability to this point is one reason Scott, his current coach, thinks he needs to spend quality time in the weight room this summer.

“He definitely has to get stronger,” Scott said. “That’s going to be a part of his game, the way he gets to the basket and how physical people play him. He’s going to be able to have to endure that and handle that for an 82-game season.”

Irving called this summer the biggest of his life. As a third-year player next year, he will be playing for a new contract, likely an extension with the Cavaliers. If he doesn’t sign a longer-term deal, he will be a restricted free agent following the 2014-15 season.

All of that, though, is in the future. Right now, Irving is focused on growing as a leader. And when he feels lonely and wants advice, he always has Krzyzewski and his former teammates in his corner.

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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