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August 27, 2010
As a true freshman, he is supposed to take over as the starting point guard for the defending national champions. Irving hasn't played a minute of college basketball, yet he already has been hailed as a future lottery pick and compared to some of the great Duke guards of the past.
Irving hasn't run from those predictions. Nor has he dwelled on them. He simply goes about his business while following the advice he received from his father so many years ago.
"I have a saying," Irving said. "It's, 'Being hungry and humble is the key to success.' That whole statement, I follow everywhere I go."
Drederick Irving isn't quite sure how he came up with the statement that has become his son's motto. He doesn't remember ever having heard it before. He just wanted to make sure Kyrie kept his ego in check as his stock started to rise.
Whatever its origin, the message paid dividends. Irving was 7 when he wrote that motto on his gym bag. He followed those words well enough to become the nation's fourth-ranked player in the incoming freshman class.
"I think it was a confidence thing," said Drederick Irving, a standout guard at Boston University from 1984-88. "When he started to get confidence and to understand he had a lot of ammunition in terms of his game, it was my way of saying to keep everything in perspective: 'Stay focused and good things will happen.'
"He's never been one of those kids who became arrogant with a little success. It's all relative, honestly, but the fact he's been able to keep everything in perspective has made him special."
Irving developed his sense of perspective at a young age. He was 4 when his mother, Elizabeth, died after a sudden illness. That meant Drederick had to raise Kyrie and his sister, Asia, on his own.
"The kids are very bright kids," Drederick Irving said. "They seemed to grasp everything that I was trying to instill in them as they were growing up. I never had a problem with Kyrie or my daughter. They're special kids. It's really been a very nice ride for us.
"We've had our challenges, but they're minuscule relative to some of the other problems my friends went through with their kids. They seemed to get it at a very young age."
Irving's maturity is evident on the court. He emerged as one of the nation's top backcourt prospects by showing a willingness to play either guard position. He is equally comfortable scoring or distributing. He averaged 24 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists per game as a senior at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick.
"I just consider myself a complete guard," Irving said. "I can score and get my teammates involved."
Irving's ability as a scoring point guard has led to comparisons with former Duke star Jason Williams, now known as Jay Williams. Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, believes the Williams references are legitimate.
Williams also grew up in New Jersey before going to Duke, and Meyer noted that the guards also have similar games.
"Kyrie to me is what every good guard should be striving to be in that he's a legitimate combination guard," Meyer said. "He can excel being a point guard. He can excel off the ball as a shooting guard. And he can bring the two together, where he can be the primary ballhandler and produce points.
"He's a creator. He produces points for his team whether he's taking the shot or he's creating a situation for someone else to score."
Irving's versatility should allow him to fit seamlessly into a backcourt that also will include Nolan Smith and Liberty transfer Seth Curry. Smith earned second-team All-ACC honors and was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA South Regional last season. Curry led all freshmen nationally in scoring at 20.2 points per game two years ago.
"He can make a really big impact," Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski said of Irving. "He's a very dynamic player. He has a number of things you don't teach, that he was born with. He has a great feel for the game. He's terrific with the ball. He has great playmaking ability and just can be as good a guard as we've had here."
That would put in him elite territory. Consider that former Duke star Bobby Hurley recorded 1,076 assists and remains the NCAA's career leader in that category. Williams won the Naismith and Wooden awards in 2002. J.J. Redick won the Wooden Award in 2006 and briefly owned the ACC career scoring record with 2,769 points. So when Wojciechowski mentions that Irving has the potential to someday rank among the school's best guards, he is making quite a statement.
"We really believe in his ability," Wojciechowski said. "Obviously he's going to be a freshman, so it's important not to compare a developing player to a finished product. But over the course of time, we think he can really be as good as some of the great guards we've had here."
There may be something to Wojciechowski's notion that Irving has some unique natural talents. Drederick Irving scored 1,935 points at Boston University and remains the school's second-leading career scorer. Irving was born in Australia, where his father was playing professionally. Irving's mother played volleyball at BU and also was involved in basketball, track and gymnastics in high school.
Those family ties help explain some of the improbable tales Drederick Irving tells about his son's rapid basketball development. According to Drederick, Kyrie was dribbling a basketball when he was 13 months old. At the age of 4, he already could shoot a regulation-sized ball into a regulation-sized basket.
"I know it sounds crazy, but these are true facts," Drederick Irving said. "I'm not distorting the truth for his benefit. I could call people up who could vouch for me."
But it would be inaccurate to attribute Irving's success to genetics. It also would be unfair. Irving certainly grew up with plenty of natural ability, but he spent years honing his skills and developing his own style. Irving may play the same sport as his father, but he has a different kind of game.
"Kyrie's a true point guard," Drederick Irving said. "I was a two guard. Kyrie has the ability to make others better. I could pass the ball, but we just have two different mentalities in terms of running a club. My responsibilities were to score, score, score, which I loved, loved, loved. Kyrie's more of a distributor. He does possess the ability to score, but he makes everybody better and simplifies the game for everyone. That's why he's Kyrie."
The hype surrounding Irving -- and his team -- undoubtedly will put quite a bit of pressure on him. Duke probably will open the season atop all the major polls, and Irving already is projected as a likely lottery pick in next year's NBA draft. The Web site nbadraft.net has Irving going fourth overall, while draftexpress.com forecasts him as the No. 9 pick.
Irving reacts to all these expectations by remembering what his father taught him. He still lives by that motto he learned as a child. But there's also something else he learned from his dad.
"Always be prepared," Irving said. "Always want more."
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.