Dime Q&A: Kyrie Irving Talks Duke, Cleveland & NBA Lockout

Prayer For A Perfect Season, HBO’s excellent documentary about last year’s St. Patrick team, was a reminder that a highly successful basketball program doesn’t necessarily insure parochial schools against financial hardship – especially with the economy currently the way it is.

In North Jersey alone, Paterson Catholic shut its doors last year, while 2011 national champion St. Anthony is constantly on the bubble – even with the legendary Bob Hurley working on its behalf. St. Patrick, founded in 1863, is dealing with some of the same difficulties, while attempting to launch a whole new era after longtime coach Kevin Boyle took a new opportunity at Montverde Academy in Florida.

On Tuesday night, alumni and supporters attended a fundraising dinner, silent auction and screening of Prayer For A Perfect Season. Among those in attendance was the school’s best-known recent graduate, 2011 No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving. In-between posing for pictures and signing basketballs for the school to auction, Kyrie took a few minutes to discuss his ties to St. Pat’s, his year at Duke, what he’s been up to, and his thoughts on becoming the new face of the Cavs.

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Dime: How does it feel to help support St. Pat’s?
Kyrie Irving: It definitely feels good. I was at St. Patrick for two and a half years, and it still holds a special place for me. I love St. Patrick with all my heart, and without this school, I wouldn’t be where I am, or the person I am today, so I really appreciate coming back and giving back to the fundraiser.

Dime: How would you feel if St. Pat’s went the way of Paterson Catholic?
KI: There’s so much history as part of St. Patrick High School. We’ve had so many great players that have done great things in this world, not only in basketball. We have a lot of tremendous students that have come out of St. Patrick, and I’m blessed enough to have a special place in their history, so I don’t want St. Patrick to close.

Dime: What have you been up to?
KI: I’m down at Duke, just trying to finish out my sophomore year. That’s basically what I’ve been doing, just working out.

Dime: Regarding your playing career at Duke, do you think sometimes about what could have been if you hadn’t hurt your foot and the team had been together the whole time?
KI: I just believe, and I think everyone knew it, that if I had played the whole season, we would have gone undefeated, we would have won a national championship, and I think we would have been one of the best Duke teams ever. I mean, we had me, Kyle [Singler], Nolan [Smith], two of the Plumlee brothers. And we were all young, but we were all bonding so well in the beginning of the season that nobody was beating us. I mean, we were winning games by probably an average of 30 points in the first several games I was playing. So it was a special opportunity, but I think God puts us in different positions. Honestly, I could look back at what could have been, but right now I’m in the future, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Dime: What did you gain from your year at Duke?
KI: My being a part of this team, even being hurt, was so special for me. First of all, I got to be a regular student. Though I had a lot of rehab to do, I had a lot more free time on my hands, so a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have had outside of the game, I got to experience. That’s why I love Duke so much – when I was hurt, I was still a part of the program, but I got to experience so many other things as well. It was special for me, and I had a great time. That’s why I’m back at Duke. I didn’t leave (for the NBA) because I didn’t want to be there, it’s because it was the best opportunity for me and my family.

Dime: Is there a part of you that wishes you were getting ready to play with Austin Rivers in the Duke backcourt?
KI: I mean, absolutely, it just goes back to what could have been. I think everyone would have loved to see Austin and me in the backcourt, it would have been a great backcourt.

Dime: How bad at this point do you just want to get out there and play?
KI: I definitely want to get out there and play – bad. Around this time, I’d be playing preseason games or getting ready for the season, so it’s definitely tough, but this will only strengthen the NBA and what we bring to the table. Last year was one of the best years for the NBA, making the most money in terms of television, and socially just being out there, so the NBA was on top of its game. But this lockout is just going to be a learning experience for me, just going through this.

Dime: Given that you and LeBron James are friends, how was it going to Cleveland, knowing that people were going to say you were following in his footsteps as they rebuild their team?
KI: Definitely, I think those comments will be inevitable about trying to follow in LeBron’s footsteps, but honestly, I think we bring two different things to the table. We both bring a winning attitude, but at the same time, we’re two very different players. Being drafted by Cleveland will give experience in being part of a rebuilding team, and it’ll give me more experience that I need to be a superstar in the NBA – which I can see myself being. You know, I don’t say that arrogantly, but that’s kind of the plateau I set for myself right now. Being drafted No. 1, it comes with a lot of pressure, but I’m just looking forward to getting to Cleveland and incorporating my game into their system.

Dime: I recently took a trip to Cleveland, and everyone I talked to is really excited to have you playing for the Cavs. Have you spent some time there to gauge the reaction of the fans?
KI: Absolutely. When you walk around Cleveland, having everyone recognize your face and you haven’t played an NBA game, it just shows you how much they pay attention to their sports teams. It’s a really great fan town, I’m looking forward to getting started there.

Dime: How do you feel about signing with Nike?
KI: It was definitely special for me just knowing that it was one of my goals that came to fruition. Being able to be part of such a unique brand – I’m part of history. It’s a special opportunity, and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of all the opportunities they afford me.

Dime: What did it mean to you personally to be drafted No. 1?
KI: Being drafted No. 1 was a very special thing for me. It was something I’ve been dreaming about since I was in fifth or sixth grade. It comes with a lot of pressure, but that was something I’ve kind of expected. Knowing that the Cleveland Cavaliers have enough confidence in me to take me No. 1, and me being in a position to do great things in Cleveland, is something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life. I’m glad to be in this position, and I’m going to take full advantage of it.

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