Who is Kyrie Irving?

by Alex Schwartz

Who is Kyrie Irving? At this time last year, not many people knew the answer to that question. The 6’2 point guard was two months removed from transferring from Montclair Kimberley Academy (NJ) to national powerhouse St. Patrick’s (NJ). As the summer moved along, word began to go around about the newest Celtic, and by the time the 08-09 school year began, Irving was all over recruiting websites and his college interest was going through the roof. A quality junior season was followed up by a prolific spring, in which he made headlines at a number of AAU tournaments with the NJ Roadrunners. Irving, whose father Dredrick Irving played at Boston University, is now ranked in the top 10 in his class by Scout, ESPNU, and Hoop Scoop. A few nights ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Irving on the phone for about a half hour, and he shed some light on his rise to national recognition, his college list, and more.

Northstar Basketball broke the news in early April that Kyrie Irving had cut his college list to 10 schools—that later went up to 11—and he has since made a few adjustments. Kyrie informed me that his current list is Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, Notre Dame, Florida, Virginia, Seton Hall, Texas A&M, Marquette, Georgia Tech, and UConn. Missing from this list are Maryland—“I haven’t talked to Maryland in a while,” said Irving—and Pitt, which have been replaced by UConn and Virginia. The 11 institutions have all offered Irving a scholarship, and he has begun to formulate a list of favorites. “Indiana and Duke are kinda up there. Indiana, Duke, and Virginia.”  IU, Duke, and UVA were the first three that Irving listed, so I asked him about Notre Dame (a recent article ZagsBlog had that quartet as his leaders), and he replied, “You could put them [Notre Dame] up there too.” Kentucky was another school that has been attached to Irving, as UK Assistant Coach Rod Strickland is Irving’s godfather, so I inquired about the Wildcats, and he answered, “They [Kentucky] are up there too,” stated the Garden State superstar.  Thus, it would appear that the Hoosiers, Blue Devils, and Cavaliers are at the top, with the Fighting Irish and Wildcats just behind, though that is a bit of speculation.

Just where did Virginia come from, and how did Tony Bennett and Co. get so high on Irving’s list? “About a month ago, when [the coach] called my father and got in touch with me and ever since then I’ve just been building a good relationship with them.” That is certainly fortunate for the ACC school, as Irving would definitely help the rebuilding process.

I asked the speedy, big-time scorer what he is looking for in a university, and he replied, “A home away from home, a great coaching staff, and if they have my major, which is journalism.” Irving said he “hasn’t looked into” which of the schools on his list have the major. When I asked Kyrie which coaches he feels he has developed the best relationship with, he told me, “[Indiana Head] Coach [Tom] Crean [Pause]. I don’t know, I have a good relationship with all of them. . . . [There is] equal balance.” Another advantage that the Big Ten school has is that—as of the time of the interview—it was the only school he had visited. What other colleges will Irving check out? “I’ll probably take visits to Notre Dame and UConn.” ZagsBlog reported that Irving actually visited the Huskies this weekend, so IU now does have some company. Kyrie went on to add, “Those [two visits] are the only ones I have planned right now. Those are the only ones I’m talking to the coaches about. Other schools I may visit. . . . I’ve been planning on Notre Dame since like January and Connecticut’s not that far.”

It has been reported that Irving plans to cut down his list to five schools after the summer, and he confirmed to me that this is indeed the case, and that it will probably happen around the end of August. When will Kyrie make his commitment? “I’m not sure, it just depends on [when I find] the right school. [Then] I will commit. I’m going to take my five official [visits] and we’ll see from there.” The gifted floor general added, “I don’t know, there’s no time frame.”

When Irving transferred from MKA to St. Pat’s, the attention on him began to pick up, though it definitely has increased even more since then. How much of his rise to national prominence does he attribute to the school switch? “I attribute some of it. This high school season was alright to me. I didn’t really have the junior season I wanted to have, but during the AAU season, playing for the NJ Roadrunners, that’s what’s gotten me where I want to be. [I am] just working hard in the gym.” The rising senior did state that he feels he would have garnered the attention at some point, no matter what. “People are always going recognize talent. Transferring to St. Pat’s gave me a little boost with national recognition. . . . It would have been a little later down the road, but I would have worked my way up to this point.” What are his thoughts on his rise to a big-time player? “It’s just great. I enjoy every minute of it. I’m just glad to be in the position I’m in, a lot of people wish they were in the position I’m in. I just thank God, and I thank myself, because I’ve put in a lot of hard work, and I still am putting in a lot of hard work. . . . I’m not done until I’m making millions. . . . I’m not done until I make it to the NBA. . . . I’m going to work hard to be the best.”

Irving spent nearly two full years—he transferred in April, 2008—at MKA, and said that he still stays in touch with some of his former classmates. “Yeah, sometimes. . . . It’s not really as strong, but I still keep in touch with some of my friends from there.” I asked Kyrie how he feels he has settled in at St. Pat’s, athletically and socially, and he said the following: “Basketball-wise, it was just like a family. We room together during the season. . . We’re just really close, all of us. I’m going to miss all the seniors. Socially, it’s just normal. There are a lot of different cultures in St. Pat’s, so it’s just different. MKA is predominantly Caucasian, and St. Pat’s is predominantly African-American, so it’s just different.”

Not many scouting websites had Kyrie Irving ranked last spring, and he is now a consensus five-star prospect. What does he think about where those same sites are now putting him? “I think I’m in a position where I want to be right now. If I was number one it would be—I’m just glad where I am, even though it’s high for some people. . . . There’s a lot of great guards. . . . [I think it comes from] my passion for the game, I love to play basketball. I’ve been dribbling a basketball since I was 18 months [old]. I was born with a basketball in my hands.” Kyrie added that part of his rise has come from “just being humble and hungry,” adding, “I always want to be better.” Right now he is considered by many to be a top 10 player and a top two or three point guard, yet that does not mean that is the spot Irving will end up when all is said and done. “I can’t tell you [where I’ll end up being ranked] right now, I’m not sure. I’m hoping to be one of those elite players. . . . Someone people are saying will make a difference at whatever program, whatever big-time program I chose. . . . I [am] hoping to be at the top.”

An intelligent player with a high basketball IQ, Irving has a good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of his game. “My ability to make my teammates better, and also score, and just the intangibles,” remarked Kyrie when I asked him what he feels the best points of his game are. What about his main weaknesses? “My strength [and] my mid-range game. It’s [the same] on Scout.” A scoring court leader, Irving compares himself to “Chris Paul [or] Deron Williams.” When asked what one word he would use to sum up his game, the St. Pat’s standout replied, “Balanced.” I then inquired of him as to what word he would used to describe himself as a person, and he said “balanced” again. That makes sense, as Irving stated “hanging with friends, and just being a normal kid,” is what he enjoys in his time away from the hardwood.

Whichever program lands Kyrie Irving is getting an extremely talented player with a good head on his shoulders, not to mention a smart and humorous person off the court. Irving may not make his college choice for some time, but it looks as though we may not have that long to see who his finalists are. Until that time, Irving will continue to dominate the AAU circuit. One thing is for sure, this will not be the last time you read about Kyrie Irving.

Scouting Report on Kyrie Irving
Offensively, Kyrie Irving can do it all. He can get to the cup with ease, dunk the ball, hit shots beyond the arc, and distribute the rock. He has already identified the fact that he needs to work on his mid-range game, so expect that to improve. Kyrie is a smart player who wants to win and always works hard. Irving plays good defense, but he needs to improve his frame and bulk up in order to become the best possible defender that he can be. Irving must add muscle to his frame, as right now his physical build is his main flaw. Once he works that out he will be nearly unstoppable, especially when taking the ball to the hole. His hops and athletic ability have improved, so that is not a concern. One question about Irving is how well he can play without the ball in his hands. When he has the rock and is playing the point, he is dominant, but when there are other very good ball handling guards on his team, he sometimes disappears. He will be a point guard at the next level, and likely the primary ball handler, so it will not be as much of problem, but it is something that Irving can improve on. Besides that, Kyrie Irving may well be the most complete player in the class of 2010, regardless of position.

Note- photo is from http://scouthoops.scout.com/

 

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