After USA Basketball practice on Thursday, Kyrie Irving went up to assistant coach Archie Griffin and asked to feed him the ball while he got up some shots . Kyrie was the only player on the floor still shooting. Determined to get better, at around 50 shots in, Kyrie went on a bad streak of finding the iron on the rim. The anger on his face was evident, as he screamed “What is going on?!” By the look on his face and his drive to make shot after shot, you can tell how good he really wants to be. He calmly settled down and made the next five shots.
Kyrie understands that this upcoming World Cup and NBA season is going be very crucial for him, as he will have to take on new challenges he’s never had to at the professional level. While you can make the case for every single player on the U.S roster about their own challenges going into next season such as Derrick Rose returning from injury, James Harden getting over the hump, or Anthony Davis becoming the superstar we have all labeled him to be, there might not be another player with more to prove than Irving.
Things in Cleveland for Kyrie changed from night to day in a span of hours. A day after signing a lucrative contract extension to stay with the Cavs and not knowing the possible future of the team, LeBron James announced his return back to Cleveland. He did not just announce his return, he stated: “My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league.”
LeBron’s statement makes me think about when Shaquille O’Neal came to Miami and decided to take a blossoming Dwyane Wade under his wing. Before Shaq went to South Beach, Wade was an All-Star during the 2004-05 season averaging 24.1 points per game, 6.8 assists, and 5.7 boards. But Miami was not a complete team until Shaq came aboard the next season and helped earn them a ring. O’Neal told reporters,
“I knew when I came here that I had to take this young fella to the next level… I knew that I’d be drawing double and triple teams and he’d make them pay… I knew that I didn’t have to carry us all the time… Just remember, I could have been a prick about this whole thing, but I willingly took a backseat to this guy so we could win the title.”
While I don’t expect LeBron in his prime to take the same step back as Shaq and let Kyrie run the show, the mentoring aspect is fairly similar. Teams are going to come after LeBron such as pre-Miami days in Cleveland and it is for Kyrie to take it himself to be ready to take on that extra leverage to help LeBron in those type of situations.
When it comes to pressure, Irving he will tell you he is used to it. From switching high schools from Montclair (N.J.) Kimberley Academy to the legendary St. Patrick High School, Irving went from an unknown prep basketball player to a star. At St. Patrick’s he was groomed to be the heir apparent to former Villanova guard Corey Fisher. He succeeded, having every college coach knock on his door and winning many accolades such as being named a McDonalds All-American.