Perhaps the most telling quote leading up to the first round game against Hampton on Friday came from the player who has seen the least playing time in practice or games for both teams over the past two and a half months.
“It’s even more nerve-racking, just the amount of pressure on Duke and just the aura of the NCAA tournament,” said Kyrie Irving, who will play in his first game since injuring his toe back in December. “This is a special occasion for me, and I just want to enjoy it with my teammates.”
While Irving may be nervous, his overall attitude throughout the rehabilitation time is something to admire and applaud. This is a young man who many have said can be a top 5 pick in this year’s draft even if he doesn’t play in these games.
He has chosen to do so because it is clear he truly enjoys college basketball, especially being a part of Duke basketball and the Atlantic Coast Conference. His energy level was just as high, if not higher, during Duke victories and his excitement on the bench when Nolan Smith did something sensational or Mason Plumlee made a highlight-reel dunk or Seth Curry drained another three-pointer in someone’s face was a sight to behold.
It was obvious how much the future NBA star wanted to be a part of the collegiate action and it is apparent from his words and his actions this week how much he wants to contribute before he leaves for the professional scene, whether it be this year or next (I honestly feel he will stay for next season because his good friend, Austin Rivers, is coming to Duke next season).
With this in hand, how will his return help or hinder Duke?
I believe he will give Coach K a situation similar to what he had during the summer last year with Team USA. Just as much as Coach K was able to make wholesale substitutions like a Derrick Rose for Chancey Billups, Dwayne Wade for Kobe Bryant and Chris Bosh for Lamar Odom, the Blue Devils mastermind now has the ability to bring in Irving, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly for Smith, Curry and one of the Plumlees and essentially have the talent level stay the same. It’s Coach K’s NBA experience without moving to the Association just like it is with Team USA. For as much as critics and analysts harping that it could disrupt what the Blue Devils have built over these past two months without Kyrie, I see it as a plus-plus upgrade in that Smith has vastly improved and can run the point or the 2-spot, Curry has clearly matured and become comfortable as a go-to scorer and the Plumlees and Singler will revel in Irving’s return because they cherished his presence so much in December.
It will be interesting to see.
About the Author
Written by Chris Girandola
I currently write for the St. Petersburg Times, MLB.com, the Naples News, Demand Studios, LiveStrong, Fuel Football, Fuel Basketball and Fuel Football.