Kyrie Irving’s transition to the NBA hasn’t been entirely seamless, but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft has certainly made it feel that way at times while running the show for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving, who scored 23 more points Sunday in a victory over the Sacramento Kings, is averaging more than 18 points and five assists per game as a 19-year-old rookie. Irving, who was playing high school ball just two years ago, says it was his one season at Duke that really prepared him for the quick transition to the NBA thanks to a first-rate program, and a coach in Mike Krzyzewski who demands plenty out of his players.
Kyrie Irving joined 92.3 The Ticket in Cleveland with Baskin & Phelps to discuss if LeBron’s history with the Cavaliers still affects the franchise, his basketball education process at Duke, what it’s like to be the center of a new era as the franchise’s fourth No. 1 overall pick, playing for Byron Scott, his knack of driving to the hoop, and his “Welcome to the NBA” moment.
Do you think the fact that LeBron James played in Cleveland still has an affect on the franchise or you personally?:
“No, personally, no, and as a team, definitely not. It’s 14 guys and we’re worried about our own team. What happened last year was last year and we’re just trying to move forward.”
Being just two years removed from high school, what’s the basketball education process been like for you?:
“Well, I would just say that I’ve been blessed enough to have a great and fast learning curve and adjustment period. I would definitely say that coming into my senior of of high school, my freshman year at Duke and my rookie year here, it takes a while to get adjusted to the pace of the game. That’s kind of what Coach taught me coming into Duke, which helped accelerate that process coming into the NBA. Three-hour practices at Duke, first-class travelling, we had it all at Duke. I was more prepared, I’d say, than other rookies coming into the NBA game.”
The Cavs had three No. 1 overall picks before you and they all worked out really well. Now you’re the fourth and bring a new era. How fun has that been for you?:
“It’s definitely a great opportunity, especially to build something from ground up and we’ll see how it goes five or 10 years from now. It’ll be really interesting. It’s good to know this is just the beginning and we have a long way to go and the only way we can go is up. So it’s a good feeling and I’m just ready to get this thing going.”
“It’s fun to play for him. He’s one of the best coaches that I’ve ever had. Him and Coach K are at the top. They basically just give you the ball and tell you to go out there and make sure you play great defense and runs the offense. When you have a coach that just gives you the opportunity to go out there and if you make mistakes, he’s not going to take you out right away. He gives you that learning period that you need. Me, coming in as the No. 1 pick, all that pressure, he’s kind of deviated away from that and told me to remain calm out there and play my game. Him allowing me to play my game has allowed my transition to the NBA to be that much easier.”
You seem to have a knack for knowing when to drive in through the big men and take the ball to the rim. How do you know when to do that?:
“I would say it’s all gut. Nothing I do out there is planned. If I see a big man or something like that, I get a joy out of attacking big men at the rim and finishing. I’ve been doing that practically my whole life.”
It really hasn’t appeared this way, but has there been at least one moment where, at 19 years old, you’ve been a bit fazed by the whole situation?:
“I mean, probably something that really overwhelmed me was probably when we played the Lakers in L.A. and we were playing against Kobe Bryant the first time. Sometimes I just caught myself watching because a year ago I was watching him go throughout the season and play on TV all the time. I was finally playing against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant. That was probably my ‘Welcome to the NBA’ moment.”