Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kyrie Irving

289: Bobby Hurley's single-season school record for assists, set in 1991. That might be 2nd by the end of the year. 8.2: Hurley's 1992-93 record for assist average. That's also not safe.

Those 16 assists Hurley handed out in a 1993 win over Florida State? They may soon be moving down a line in the Blue Devils' record book as well.

And don't think for a second, this year's squad won't have a chance to at least threaten the Duke record for scoring average, a hard-to-top 92.4-points per game mark established 46 seasons ago.

So that brings us quickly to Kyrie Irving, Duke's dazzling freshman point guard who will lead the defending national champions onto the floor tonight for their season opener against Princeton.

For Irving, all the pieces are in place for a monster season. We're talking Ridley Scott-explosive.

The kid comes to campus with an NBA-ready game. He has quickness. He has vision. He has admirable panache.

And, oh yeah, he has a ridiculous supporting cast around him.

That is, I guess, if you can consider established All-American stars like Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith supporting cast members.

You can probably tell by now I love Irving's game. I've gone on record in several different forums with an unwavering guarantee: Duke's point guard will be a first-team All-ACC star. Right away.

Now as the Blue Devils keep their preeminent goal of winning a second consecutive national championship in mind, the biggest question revolves around just how well Irving will handle the pressure and expectation that's been thrown at him.
Stress reactions

There's so much we still have to learn about Irving's mental toughness and stamina and ability to accept struggle.

When he was engulfed by reporters at Duke's media day last month, his eyes nearly came out of their sockets.

"This is a new deal for me," Irving said. "I'm not used to this level of attention. But I guess I better start getting used to it."

Without question, his ability to become comfortable as a leading man on the country's most heavily scrutinized team will be a huge challenge.

And during Duke's first official practice last month, coach Mike Krzyzewski saw a fatigue in Irving's mannerisms that should not have been present so early.

The intensity of everything was clearly battering Irving. And the young point guard's eagerness to succeed was also wearing him down.

During a break 30 minutes before the end of the workout, Krzyzewski approached Irving and studied his face.

"You have furrows in your forehead," Coach K said with a smirk.

Irving laughed.

"You're too young to have furrows in your forehead," Krzyzewski continued. "This is what this is right now. You're going to have to do this without having furrows."
Thrown into the fire

As Irving's duties become more and more sophisticated with each passing month, Krzyzewski has given the rookie point guard some basic principles to always keep in mind.

First and foremost, Irving has to remember to take care of the ball, to learn the value of a possession.

It's worth noting that Jon Scheyer made 212 shots and had 194 assists last season yet committed just 65 turnovers in 1,470 minutes played as Duke's offense became one of the most efficient in the country. That was certainly a huge factor in the Blue Devils' ability to win 18 of their final 19 games.

Krzyzewski also wants Irving to get a feel for the difference between being aggressive and being reckless, a major adjustment for any newcomer to the high-level college basketball.

"With a freshman point guard, no matter how good you are, the very first thing to keep control of is wanting to do too much, wanting to force action when there's no action to be forced," Krzyzewski said. "It's about recognizing situations where I should attack or I should set up. . But as coach you don't want to micromanage him where he then loses his instincts. It's just a balance there."

Fortunately for Irving, the balance will come from having great mentors. Krzyzewski plus Smith and Singler will all be around for support and encouragement.

The wildly competitive schedule Duke will play over the next three weeks will also benefit the young point guard in the long run.

A Nov. 23 date with No. 3 Kansas State could materialize at the CBE Classic in Kansas City.

After that, Duke will host a Dec. 1 showdown with No. 2 Michigan State at Cameron Indoor Stadium followed three days later with a trip to New Jersey to face No. 17 Butler in a rematch of last season's national title game.

As crazy as it sounds, Krzyzewski is actually looking forward to seeing Irving struggle some during his first month on the big stage. It's the best way to learn more about his fortitude.

"That's going to be part of his evolution - having a lot expected of him," Krzyzewski said. "So we may as well put him out there."

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