Commentary

Irving following in famous footsteps

Updated: January 28, 2010, 10:23 AM ET
By Brendan Murphy | ESPN.com

Kyrie Irving is known for his moves.

Those moves, of course, generally occur on the high school hardwood at various gymnasiums on the East Coast. That changed when the nation's No. 4-rated senior, a player who's used to the spotlight, took center stage and made his theatrical debut in St. Patrick High's rendition of "High School Musical."

"Aside from me being a basketball player, I'm just a normal person," Irving said. "I love to hang out with my friends and just be normal.

[+] EnlargeKyrie Irving
Scott KurtzKyrie Irving is ready for the pressure of leading Duke.

"Going out for the play was a first-time thing for me. I've never done a stand-up thing like that, just live. It was nerve-wracking. I was more nervous going up there than I was going out on to the basketball court. It was definitely a great experience."

Next fall, Irving, the most celebrated recruit in Duke's 2010 class, will be making his debut at another unfamiliar venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Expectations will be high on Tobacco Road -- basketball's Broadway -- and don't look for Irving to be a supporting cast member. With current All-American candidate Jon Scheyer scheduled to graduate, Irving likely will become the starting point guard in Durham.

The list of performers who have directed the Duke offense is daunting: Tommy Amaker, Bobby Hurley, Steve Wojciechowski, Jason Williams, Chris Duhon and Scheyer.

"Being a point guard at Duke is very unique, obviously," said Wojciechowski, now a member of the coaching staff at Duke. "It's about as high-profile a position as you can have in college basketball. … There's something that comes with the responsibility of being the floor leader of the Duke team."

The commonly held belief is that point guard play is what takes teams deep into the tournament. That, of course, rings very true in Durham.

"I think [point guard] is the most important position in the college game," said Duke associate head coach Chris Collins. "Having a guy out there to steady your team … when you have an elite-level point guard, it gives the ability to do a lot of things out there."

Irving won't be the first freshman to start at the position for Duke -- both Williams and Hurley did. The reality is that, as Hurley showed in directing the Blue Devils to the championship game as a freshman, talent has a way of trumping experience. Irving has no shortage of skills.

"[Irving will] obviously bring a great dimension to our team," Collins said. "We really feel he has the ability to do everything out there. He's a great leader, he should be a guy who can run our team, and also he can score the basketball. He really is a player that has many strengths and we're really excited about him coming into our program."

Irving's finest traits -- on and off the court -- were on display earlier this month when St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) faced off against Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nevada) in a matchup of national powerhouses. With his team facing a double-digit deficit, Irving asserted himself on the offensive end, scoring 20 second-half points to guide the Celtics back. With a second remaining, Irving took the line for two free throws to send the game into overtime. He sank the first. He missed the second.

[+] EnlargeKyrie Irving
Andrew Shurtleff for ESPN.comIrving is following in the footsteps of New Jersey natives who went on to win championships at Duke.

"If I would've made that free throw, I think we would have been national champions, so it kind of hurts," said Irving, who has averaged 27 points per game for the Celtics this season. "But I just take it from here and move on."

He wore the disappointment as well as any 17-year-old could following the frustrating defeat. But the events on the court didn't stop him from talking with reporters or signing a dozen or so autographs.

That reaction is typical of the way he approaches life and the game of basketball.

"He's a really intelligent young guy," Collins said. "He's very mature beyond his years. … He's kind of like an old-school-type player/person. When you talk to him you don't feel like you're talking to a high school senior."

Duke's staff is comprised of coaches who were point guards at the college level. Like Wojciechowski, Mike Krzyzewski was a starting college point guard (for Bob Knight at Army). Collins was a prolific scoring off-guard for Duke from 1993-96. Irving feels the staff's playing experience will serve as an asset.

"I am going to need [that coaching], especially going into my first year," Irving said. "Just going into that big of a role it gets me really excited, especially playing for one of the greatest coaches in college basketball."

Of all the big-name guards that came before him, two stand out most. Both Hurley and Williams led the Blue Devils to national titles and hailed from New Jersey as Irving, a West Orange native.

"The good thing with Duke is he's a point guard, he'll have the ball there," said St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle. "He'll get to play through his success and his mistakes. They've had some really good Jersey guards there in Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams, and I think he could very much be on the same talent level as those guys, which is a lot said when you consider the career that Bobby had and the player of the year that Jason Williams was at one point."

Having played in the shadow of some of the program's greats, Wojciechowski can empathize with the challenge that Irving will soon confront.

"He needs to be himself," Wojciechowski said. "He doesn't need to copy or mimic any of the guards that came before him. He needs to blaze his own trail. With his talent and ability, as long as he works hard and keeps his head on straight he'll be a terrific player here."

The work it takes to become a star at the next level isn't lost on Irving. His personal motto, "hungry and humble," should serve him well during his days in Durham, but it doesn't mean Irving is thinking small.

"The two point guards that led them to national championships were from New Jersey and I plan on being the third one," Irving said.

Brendan Murphy is a recruiting editor for ESPN.com.