A fearless penetrator and unselfish player, Kyrie Irving was regarded as one of the nation’s top three freshmen, along with North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, heading into the season. But Irving suffered a torn ligament in his right big toe in early December and missed the rest of the regular season. He finally made it back on the court last weekend, just in time for college basketball’s biggest stage, the NCAA Tournament. Even though Irving only played 20 minutes in the opening round against Hampton, he led the Blue Devils in scoring with 14 points, and while his stats against Michigan during second round play weren’t as impressive, his play on the court was more significant. Irving connected on what proved to be the pivotal basket in the victory over the Wolverines, hitting on a courageous runner with 33 seconds left.
Irving will come off the bench tonight against the fifth-seeded Arizona Wildcats and is expected to see significant minutes in this game. So far Coach K has done a great job at integrating Irving into the lineup without disrupting the chemistry of the team. Irving has always been an unselfish player and will do whatever is asked of him as long as it benefits the team. Despite only playing 10 games this season, he is projected as a high lottery pick if he decides to declare for the 2011 NBA Draft.
Kyrie Irving joined Dan Patrick to talk about how he hurt his toe earlier in the season, whether he is risking anything with his toe and how important it was for him to stay in shape for an eventual return, and if he is planning to come back to school next year.
How he hurt his toe earlier in the season:
“On December 4, when it first happened, I stepped back on the sideline and all of my weight was on my toe and I separated ligaments in my big toe and it just felt like nothing was there anymore, my big toe swelled up. Somehow miraculously I went back in the game and I finished out the game and when I got back to the locker room it just swelled up and I could barely move it the next day.”
How tough the backlash was to take after injuring his toe:
“It was definitely tough, especially, some people don’t really know the whole entire situation and everyone is going to have their own perception, but it was just getting to me a little bit, but I got through that whole phase of people calling me ‘soft’ or whatever and it was fine with me.”
Whether he is risking anything with his toe and how important it was for him to stay in shape for an eventual return:
“No, sir. I would not be back out there if I didn’t have confidence in my toe, and the medical staff did not have confidence in my toe. Getting back out there is a special opportunity for me. I don’t feel like I am risking anything, anything. Especially for me I just feel like I want to contribute to my team as much as I can.”
If his role is the same as it was before his injury:
“Well personally I am going to adjust as much as I can to this team. (HOST: Well, what does that mean?) Well one, I have never been a selfish player. If anything, I will make it easier for Nolan to play whenever he needs to get off the ball. Nolan is a great player so I am just going to let him do what he has been doing throughout the whole entire season, but it is never difficult for me. I am just trying to integrate myself as best as I can to the system that Coach K had.”
A reason why he would not go back to school next year:
“Well right now there is no reason why I wouldn’t come back. I love everything about Duke and the whole situation for me is perfect.”
If he is planning to come back to school next year:
“I am not sure right now. I am just going to drop through the NCAA tournament and we will see when the season ends.”
What his criteria is for deciding whether or not he is going to come back to school next season:
“I just have to look at everything from a broader perspective. You know after the season I will sit down with the coaching staff and I will sit down with my family and we will discuss this, but right now I am just trying to focus on the NCAA tournament.”