Departing Duke point guard Kyrie Irving said it was difficult to make the decision to leave the Blue Devils because he believed he could learn a lot playing a full season under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
But Irving, whose freshman season was limited to 11 games because of a toe injury that kept him out 3 ½ months, said in a telephone conference with reporters this afternoon that he couldn’t turn down this opportunity to enter the NBA draft.
“To go to the NBA is my ultimate dream,” Irving said. “I’ve dreamed about it for a while. Having the opportunity to be such a high pick at such a young age is an opportunity that a lot of people won’t pass up.”
Irving is projected to be one of the top five picks overall in the draft, according to collegebasketballnews.com analyst Chris Monter. He averaged 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game and shot 52.9 percent from the field.
He said he called Krzyzewski on Wednesday afternoon and informed him of the decision. They talked for about 25 minutes after that.
“He said he’s happy for me and my family,” Irving said, “and he’s going to offer as much help as he can as this process continues.”
The toe injury wasn't a major factor in his decision, Irving said. He tore ligaments between the bones in his right big toe and had to wait for them to heal, and has said he will have to wear steel shanks in his shoe for the rest of his life to prevent the toe from hyperextending and getting injured again.
But he said if he had been worried about reinjuring it, he wouldn't have returned for the NCAA tournament, where he played in the Blue Devils' final three games.
Irving said the thing he learned most from his time at Duke is how to prepare. He said there were times in high school when he might have gotten lazy for a quarter or so, but Krzyzewski told him that couldn’t happen with the Blue Devils.
Irving credited Krzyzewski and seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler with showing him that a player at the Division I level can’t take plays off.
“When you come to an institution like Duke and play at such a high level, you’re going to have to play like a professional and prepare like a professional,” Irving said.
Irving said he does plan to hire an agent and end his eligibility, but he is letting his father handle that duty. He said he thought a lot about the quality of the team that Duke would have had if he returns.
He said the Blue Devils have a strong recruiting class and mentioned 6-foot-8 IMG Academy forward DeAndre Daniels as a potential addition who could make the class even better. Duke is among the schools on Daniels’ list.
Particularly since he only played 11 college basketball games, Irving won’t be able to avoid asking “what if?”
“There are a lot of what ifs in the back of my mind always,” Irving said, “but I can’t look back right now. I’m just thinking ahead for what I can best do.”
David Scott has been with the Observer for 28 years and has written about ACC, SEC and other college sports in the Charlotte region. He covers Wake Forest, South Carolina and college soccer for the Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer.
J.P. Giglio covers the ACC for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1997, and the Observer.
Andrew Carter covers the North Carolina Tar Heels for the Observer and News & Observer.
Laura Keeley covers the Duke Blue Devils for the Observer and News & Observer. Follow her on Twitter.
Chip Alexander covers the Carolina Hurricanes and college football for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1979, and the Observer.
Luke DeCock has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist for the Observer and News & Observer in August 2008.
Tim Crothers is an author and former senior writer at Sports Illustrated who is joining the sports staff to write a regular column during the rest of the college basketball season.