NCAA Tournament: Duke’s Irving could be back
DURHAM ó Injured Duke point guard Kyrie Irving could return for the Blue Devilsí NCAA tournament opener, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday night.
Krzyzewski said Irving practiced ěa little bitî with the team Tuesday, but he wonít know for a few days whether the freshman will be available for the top-seeded Blue Devilsí West Regional opener against 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday in Charlotte.
ěThere is a chance that he would play,î Krzyzewski said.
The coach added that if Irving does come back, he wonít start, would see only limited minutes and wouldnít be on the court for extended periods of time.
ěYou donít want to get where he gets hurt and hurts something else because you extend him pastî his limits, Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils will hold their pre-NCAA tournament open practice Thursday at the arena in Charlotte and ěweíll know a heck of a lot more by then,î Krzyzewski said.
Irving, a playmaking point guard with a quick first step, was the leader of Dukeís uptempo attack ó and the teamís leading scorer with an average of 17.4 points ó when he injured the big toe on his right foot in a win against Butler on Dec. 4.
Not long after that, Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils were prepared to play the rest of the season without him. Irving spent nearly two months in a hard cast to keep the toe immobilized, and his right foot was in a boot after that.
Speculation about his status intensified during the past week. Irving performed on-court drills in shorts and sneakers with the Blue Devilsí training staff before their ACC quarterfinal against Maryland, switching to street clothes for the game.
Then after Dukeís title-game victory, Irving said there was a chance he could return sometime during the tournament. Krzyzewski later said that was a long way off and downplayed the comments as a young player getting caught up in the emotion of missing out on a championship.
ěIím going day by day, because I never expected him to be where heís at today,î Krzyzewski said. ěThis is like uncharted waters.î
Both Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils insist Irvingís possible return wouldnít threaten the chemistry developed over the past three months without him. Duke (30-4) went 22-4 in his absence, rolling to a third straight ACC tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
ěAll the guys, if heís able to play, would welcome him back,î Krzyzewski said. ěHeís been the best guy ever on a sideline with his teammates. Itíd be different if he wasnít that way. I think that would be a smooth transition, and if weíre fortunate enough to win, and heís able to play, then you get more accustomed to it.î
Said forward Kyle Singler: ěPersonally, I donít think heís missed a beat. … He just fits in.î
Irvingís injury forced senior Nolan Smith to shift to the point and help make up for his absence at both ends of the court.
After a rough first game in that role, Smith responded. He not only became Dukeís leading scorer, he led the ACC in scoring. Smith finished the season with at least 15 points in 22 straight games and 24 of 25 overall. Along the way, he flirted with the conference lead in assists and claimed two of the ACCís top awards: Player of the year and MVP of the tournament.
Irvingís possible return would take some pressure off Smith, who might not have to guard the opposing teamís primary ball-handler quite as often.
ěIf (Irving) does happen to come back and play, I think it would be very easy for him to fit right in and help us win games,î Smith said. ěHeís obviously that talented. He wants to be part of winning, more than anything. If he gets back on the court with us, weíll just keep on rolling.î