Local kids make area proud at draft

NEWARK, N.J. -- Kyrie Irving looked like he might be sick.

The St. Patrick High School (Elizabeth, N.J.) and Duke University product -- and the heavy favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft -- was sitting at a table with his father, his sister and two of his best friends, to the right of the stage at the Prudential Center. NBA commissioner David Stern had just walked to the elevated podium, welcomed the crowd in attendance, and announced that the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the clock.

Behind Irving, the ESPN television crew began discussing Irving as highlights of his brief career at Duke played on the television screens in the arena. But Irving just stared straight ahead at the stage, barely talking to his family and friends, a stoic look painted on his face.

As Stern re-emerged from behind the stage to reveal the No. 1 pick, Irving hunched over, hands on his knees, waiting for words that would change his life, one way or another. And when he heard his name spill off the lips of the commissioner, he leaned back in his chair for a precious moment, before jumping up to hug his family.

It was a refreshing dash of suspense at an event that's normally scripted at the start. Irving had been given no firm indication by the Cavaliers whether they were going to select him No. 1.

"When David Stern came up there and said the Cleveland Cavaliers have five more minutes on the clock, that felt like the longest five minutes of my life," Irving said.

Irving now heads to Cleveland to play for the Cavs, who finished last season with the second-worst record in the NBA at 19-63. He becomes the new face of a franchise still suffering through the departure of LeBron James. But Irving sounded thrilled about his new home.

"I'm really not looking to replace LeBron, honestly -- just try to be Kyrie Irving and just contribute to the Cleveland organization as much as I can," Irving said. "I'm looking forward to getting to Cleveland. It's a big sports town and I cannot wait to embrace all of the fans there."

Irving said all the right things in his post-draft session with the media. He even opened his remarks by saying, "I want to thank everybody for coming," upon sitting down in front of the microphone.

And Irving wasn't the only impressive player on this draft night. You couldn't help but feel happy for another New York-area product, Bronx native Kemba Walker. There was rampant speculation that Walker, once considered a shoo-in to be among the first handful of selections, might drop precipitously in the first round. But Walker was chosen at No. 9 by the Charlotte Bobcats, and repeatedly wiped away tears as he took the stage to shake the commissioner's hand -- the most emotional display of the evening.

Walker continued to brush back the tears as he left the stage for his interview with ESPN. In fact, he composed himself by looking up at the Jumbotron above him, which was playing highlights from his remarkable final season at UConn -- when he led the Huskies to 11 straight wins in March and April, winning the Big East tournament and the national title.

"It's been like a movie," said Walker, who, fittingly, was wearing a Carolina blue suit for the occasion. "This whole year has been magical, honestly. So many different, crazy things have been happening to me, and you know, I just feel lucky. I feel blessed."

When asked about being drafted by a team owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan, Walker said, "He's the greatest player to ever play the game, so anything I can learn from that man -- I'm going to ask a lot of questions. I'm going to go in there with an open mind and just be ready to learn."

And then there was Newark native Kenneth Faried, who led the nation in rebounding last season (14.5 boards per game) at Morehead State, and put his school on the map by leading them to an upset of No. 3 seed Louisville in their NCAA tournament opener in March.

Faried, who was selected at No. 22 by the Denver Nuggets, wasn't even invited by the NBA to sit in the "green room" with other top draft candidates -- even though he was from the city where the draft was being held. Instead, he sat several rows up with his family -- his daughter, his father, his grandmother and his two mothers (read Dana O'Neil's excellent profile for more.)

"My family being able to watch, and a lot of my family just to basically take a bus ride down to come see me get drafted is a great feeling to have," Faried said.

Faried, who had to climb down from the crowd to have his moment on stage, had every right to take a shot at the NBA for not treating him better when he spoke with the media afterward. But he handled the situation with grace.

"It was a little surprise, [I was] a little depressed, but [it] just made my chip on my shoulder grow a little bit more," Faried said. "It's just going to make me push myself that much harder to be hopefully invited to the All-Star Game and things like that."

Yes, this was one of the weaker NBA draft classes in recent years -- there's no arguing with that. But we got drama, emotion and plenty of class from those chosen on Thursday night -- particularly from players from the metropolitan area. New York and New Jersey, you have a lot to be proud of.

As Irving exited the interview room following his session with the media, he was handed a cell phone. On the other end was his new coach, Byron Scott. The two spoke for a couple of minutes, and near the end, the No. 1 pick had a message for his new mentor.

"I'll be ready for it," Irving said. "Every single day of practice."

You can't ask for a whole lot more.