The New Duke

by August 22, 2012

With Kyrie Irving gracing the cover of KICKS 15—on newsstands as you read this!—we figured now was a solid time to look back at the first time the New Jersey-bred point guard was ever featured on the pages of our magazine. Below is the PUNKS piece about the then-high school senior, originally published in SLAM 138 (June 2010).—Ed.


by Farmer Jones | portraits by Matthew Salacuse

It’s late on a Wednesday night in March, and Kyrie Irving just got home from baseball practice. This is hard to believe—not because we have any reason to doubt the word of the five-star point guard, but because he is a five-star point guard. Guys like Kyrie usually fill the spring of their senior year with trips to All-American games and victory laps through their final semester. Guys like Kyrie don’t usually spend their last couple months of high school digging groundballs out of the dirt.

Irving has gotten pretty good at avoiding typecasting: Last fall, he starred in the St. Patrick (NJ) High School theatre department’s performance of High School Musical because, why not? As one of the best prep basketball players in the country, Irving is the sort of kid who can go out on social limbs for the fun of it. Just don’t think he doesn’t take it seriously. “Pretty much everything I do, once I commit to it,” he says, “I have to give it my all.”

We’re not about to vouch for Kyrie’s ability to hit a curveball or sing and dance (although there’s video of the latter if you want to look for it), but we can speak to the work he puts in on the court. The 6-3, 180-pound Duke signee and consensus All-American—St. Patrick will have to find another third baseman when Kyrie travels for the McDonald’s and Jordan All-American games—has earned the Jay Williams comparisons, and not only because he’s a Jersey boy on his way to play for Coach K. Like Williams, he’s a versatile, score-at-will point guard who can drive, shoot and dish with equal effectiveness. If the Blue Devils follow up on this year’s No. 1 seed with an equally dope squad in ’10-11, Irving will be the primary reason why.

Genetically, at least, none of this should come as a surprise. Kyrie’s dad, Drederick Irving, was an honorable mention All-American in the late ’80s at Boston University, where he left as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Pops also made his name on the playground and still runs in competitive NYC rec leagues; rumor has it that Drederick, now in his mid-40s but still a lean 6-4, dunks with regularity. But Kyrie inherited more than just his father’s game. Smarts run in the family, too, which explains why Kyrie started out at a small private school in Montclair before making the jump to mighty St. Pat’s two years ago, the better to test his game against some of the nation’s best.

For that, he didn’t have to look much beyond practice. As a junior, he shared the backcourt with current UNC freshman Dexter Strickland, and he was overshadowed most of that season by class of ’11 star Michael Gilchrist. But after his terrific play last summer—including an MVP performance at the Nike Global Challenge—and an excellent senior season that confirmed his top-five status in the ’10 class, Irving’s shine is secure. “This year,” he says, “I can’t say I felt overshadowed by anybody.”

Indeed, the only dark cloud over Irving’s senior year came in February, on the eve of the state tournament, when the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association barred St. Patrick from states as punishment for holding illegal offseason workouts. “I didn’t touch a basketball for a week—I was just mentally worn out,” Irving says. “But I’ve got no regrets. I had a great time with my teammates, and I’m excited for everybody’s future.”

It should take more than technicalities to keep Kyrie out of the postseason next year. We just hope the ’11 NCAA Tournament doesn’t conflict with the schedule of the Duke chess club, water polo team or whatever else he decides to try out next.