By Matt Norlander
Duke fans aren't looking for or needing consolation over Kyrie Irving's departure to the NBA.
Yes, he was one of the best point guards the school ever successfully lured to campus, but this is Duke. It hurts he's gone, there will always be a what-if feeling in regard the success and memorable performances he could've had in a Devils uniform, but the fan base, the program and its Hall of Fame coach will move on.
Still, get this: Had Irving's injury been more serious, he says he would've returned to Durham for his sophomore year. Those three NCAA tournament games -- a win over Hampton State; a win over Michigan; a loss to Arizona -- are apparently what convinced Irving he should head to the NBA. Had the toe been too tender to play on, he wouldn't have given it a go in the Big Dance and come back for 2011-12.
Irving told FOXSportsOhio.com the first eight games of his college career (before he injured the toe) were not a sufficient barometer on his ability to play at the next level.
Irving insisted his toe is now “100 percent healthy.” That’s a lot different than the NCAA tournament in March, when he estimated it was only about 70 percent. Had Irving not been able to play in the tournament, he said he would have returned to Duke for his sophomore season.That's a heck of an alternate-universe scenario to let hang out in the wind. (Duke fans, have fun with that.) Now, a few things to address. First, it's easy for Irving to say this stuff now, but we'll never truly know. He was considered top-three material before the NCAA tournament; his performance in it (17.6 points, two assists per game) wasn't so revelatory that his draft stock saw an uptick immediately afterward. It's conceivable -- and likely -- that he'd still have opted for the NBA after the season. Not calling the kid a liar, simply saying it's easy to the scenario in which he was seen as a topflight pick and chose to enter the NBA Draft.
“Those eight games (before the injury) just weren’t enough,” he said. “But playing in the tournament gave me a chance to prove something to all the naysayers about my durability.”
There was something else that was revealed in Irving comments that I finding interesting. Remember how Irving, his father, Duke, Coach K -- they were all insistent Irving wouldn't play against last season unless he was completely healthy? I don't know if anyone ever bought into that, even when he dressed for the tournament, but 70 percent is still far from all the way back. Was Irving nudged back into playing? If so, by who? It's always intriguing to have players address injuries after the fact, when they can tell reporters the truth. And Irving at 70 percent is better than 95 percent of college players at full value.
Ultimately, we're left with a season in which a top-ranked prospect missed out on, meaning we missed on him, too. I suppose it remains intriguing because we've never had an elite player with an injury/NBA Draft situation like Irving's before. If only he hadn't played in March.
Photo: US PRESSWIRE