Kyrie Irving: One and done to No. 1

An oral history of the Celtics star’s tantalizing 11-game Duke career

Mike Krzyzewski looked the kid in his eyes. The legendary head coach of the Duke University men’s basketball program was in West Orange, New Jersey, to watch a point guard named Kyrie Irving. Krzyzewski sized up the 16-year-old. Both of them can recount the moment, almost verbatim.

“He told me I was going to be one of the best of my generation,” Irving says years later, after a February practice at the Boston Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“I told him he was going to be one of the players of his era,” Krzyzewski — Coach K — recalls without prompting, about a week later from his office at Duke. “I saw everything in that kid.”

In October 2009, Irving, the top-ranked point guard and No. 3 overall player in the 2010 recruiting class, committed to Duke and Krzyzewski. How good was he, really? Well, the summer before his freshman year, in a tryout for USA Basketball’s under-18 squad, it took just four minutes of 5-on-5 before Irving was told he made the team. By the time he arrived on campus, Irving broke out moves in preseason pickup games that players, even some who’d reached the NBA, had never seen. Jay Williams, now an ESPN college basketball analyst, was a Duke point guard and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft. “I realized Kyrie would be one-and-done,” says Williams, who was in some of those sessions, “before he even stepped on the court in college.”

Irving made the absolute most of his time at Duke until a freak injury eight games into the season (coincidentally against current Celtics head coach Brad Stevens’ Butler team) forced him to sit out most of his freshman year. Had he not missed those 26 games, Irving surely would’ve been in the conversation as the most dominant freshman in the history of college basketball — up there with 1977-78 Magic Johnson, 1989-90 Shaquille O’Neal and 2006-07 Kevin Durant.

Nearly a decade has passed since Irving averaged 17.5 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds, while shooting 56.9 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from 3-point range, in just 11 games at Duke. “He likes to remind us all the time,” says Jayson Tatum, his Celtics teammate and another Duke one-and-done, “that it only took him 11 games to be the No. 1 pick.”

From that short foray at the NCAA level, Irving has grown into a genuine NBA superstar: the 2011 Rookie of the Year, a five-time All-Star and NBA champion. Now in his first season with the Celtics, only Irving truly knows the pressure his decision to leave Cleveland and challenge LeBron James for Eastern Conference supremacy places on his shoulders. But in a weird way, Irving, in his first season as point guard for the fabled Celtics franchise, is a freshman again.

This is a story of pain, pressure, sacrifice, swag and perseverance — in 11 games. This is the story of the education of Kyrie Irving.

Everyone quoted (and every arena) is identified by the titles they held during the 2010-11 college basketball season.

Game 1 Duke vs. Princeton (97–60) Nov. 14, 2010 Cameron Indoor Stadium

A gold medal summer and two NCAA exhibitions brought Irving to this moment: the first regular-season game of his college career. No. 1 Duke, the utterly loaded defending national champions, faced Princeton in the opening round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Irving was 18 years, 7 months and 22 days old when he became the first freshman to start at point guard for Krzyzewski’s squad since the aforementioned Williams in 1999. Also, for the first time in his tenure at Duke, Coach K allowed the coveted No. 1 jersey to be worn. “He could handle it,” says Krzyzewski of Irving’s uniform number. “It put something on him that he needed. He wanted that lead role, and that was a way of him saying that.”

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I remember how nervous I was.

Sydney JohnsonHead coach, Princeton

I remember him being unstoppable.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I just wanted to really, really prove to myself that I was able to play on the high college level.

Sydney JohnsonHead coach, Princeton

He stood out as a freshman as if he’d been a junior guard and had been starting for two years … defensively, he was scary.

On Nov. 14, 2010, an 18-year-old Kyrie Irving made his college debut against Princeton, as Duke’s first freshman starting point guard in 11 years. (Courtesy Duke Athletics)

Princeton’s first two offensive trips resulted in changes of possession forced by Irving: a block on a shot attempt and a steal on a crosscourt skip pass.

Dan MavraidesSenior guard, Princeton

Based on those first two plays, he was college-ready… Kyrie’s natural talent, in-game awareness, knack for the basketball — that’s a rarity, right? You see the spins he puts on the ball, the way he finishes around traffic, it’s obviously something he’s worked on his whole life. It’s damn near an innate ability.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

Going to Duke, there were a lot of expectations — from myself and everyone else. I was trying to live up to all of them.

Game 2 Duke vs. Miami (OH) (79–45) Nov. 16, 2010 Cameron Indoor Stadium

At the 17:59 mark of the opening period, a referee whistled Irving for his second foul in two minutes, sending him to the bench, where he’d sit for most the half. Irving made the most of that little taste of adversity, finishing with an efficient performance despite logging just 19 minutes. Yet for two players on that Miami roster, it felt like Irving played the full 40.

Julian MavungaJunior forward, Miami

He would smile. He would talk to you, but he’d be out there to kill you. … I had never seen a freshman like that.

Quinten RollinsFreshman guard, Miami

Kyrie ran the show.

For the first time, Coach K allowed the coveted No. 1 jersey to be worn. “He could handle it,” says Krzyzewski. “It put something on him that he needed.”

Julian MavungaJunior forward, Miami

That kid, at 18, was getting guys in the huddle. He was coming down the court, and he wasn’t looking to Mike [Krzyzewski] on the sideline. He was … calling plays. He’d see mismatches and be like, ‘OK, we gotta get this guy the ball.’

Quinten RollinsFreshman guard, Miami

When he was off the floor, you didn’t feel like Duke was as good.

Julian MavungaJunior forward, Miami

The most random thing ever… an intangible type thing … a screen he set. They’re in the middle of trying to call a baseline out-of-bounds play … the next thing I know Kyrie’s just running into me. Like, I couldn’t move … and, BOOM! … they got a layup. He just has this sense for the game — not only to score, not only to pass, or be the creator, but to just help other people on the basketball court. … I still remember coach called a timeout like two possessions later. He said, ‘You gonna let that little a– guy run into you?!’

Game 3 Duke vs. Colgate (110–58) Nov. 19, 2010 Cameron Indoor Stadium

A 30-minute drive separates where Mike Venezia grew up in Westfield, New Jersey, from Irving’s hometown of West Orange. But because he’s a few years older, Venezia had never gone against the phenom before 2010. One of Venezia’s close friends, though, had played at St. Patrick High School with Irving. And that friend delivered an unofficial scouting report before the game.

Mike VeneziaJunior guard, Colgate

I remember asking, ‘What does he do so well?’ And my friend was like, ‘That’s the funny thing. He’s not big. He’s not particularly athletic, but he’s so skilled and his moves are so good. … He really just gets to anywhere on the floor.’

Emmett DavisHead coach, Colgate

At the beginning of the game, Kyrie threw an alley-oop. It was a pinpoint pass that went over the top of our guys.

Mitch RollsSophomore point guard, Colgate

I see him let go of the ball. He just puts it in the air, and I go, ‘I don’t think he’s shooting it.’ Next thing you know … somebody comes and dunks it backwards.

Mike VeneziaJunior guard, Colgate

Fortunately for Kyrie — unfortunately for Colgate — the hype was true.

Emmett Davis, Colgate head coach Duke vs. Colgate

Footage courtesy of ESPN

Emmett DavisHead coach, Colgate

I remember coaching at Colgate when we played Syracuse … the year they won the national championship [in 2003] with Carmelo Anthony. … Kyrie … reminded me of that night in the Carrier Dome with Carmelo. You can just see it in guys. They have a special glow to them, the way they play.

Game 4 Duke vs. Marquette (82–77) Nov. 22, 2010 Sprint Center

This game featured league-bound veteran talent, including Duke’s Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler. Yet Cavs scouts in attendance were eyeing Irving. “We were locked in on him pretty early,” says David Griffin, who was the Cavs’ vice president of basketball operations at the time. Griffin also notes that at least one member of the organization would attend every game, and most practices, that Irving played in as a freshman.

Dwight BuycksSenior guard, Marquette

We didn’t wanna be the team that Kyrie killed … so we kept throwing bodies at him.

Junior CadouganSophomore guard, Marquette

He was a freshman in a big-time atmosphere, so we tried to … wear him down.

“We believed in each other. He knew that I believed in him ultimately. I loved coaching that kid.” — Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski on Kyrie Irving. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

Irving notched his fourth straight game in double digits but ended up with just 11 points. And though he recorded seven assists, Marquette forced the freshman point guard into five turnovers — more than he had in his first three games combined.

Dwight BuycksSenior guard, Marquette

He did make mistakes, but he never put his head down. He never seemed shook.

Junior CadouganSophomore guard, Marquette

He wasn’t loud, Kyrie. He was humble and making the right plays. As a freshman, that’s big-time.

Dwight BuycksSenior guard, Marquette

You didn’t know how high he’d go, but … it was like, ‘Oh, OK … he’s an NBA player.’

David GriffinVice president of basketball operations, Cleveland Cavaliers

Four or five games in … really sort of signaled that he was there … like, ‘Holy s—, this guy is really that good.’

Game 5 Duke vs. Kansas State (82–68) Nov. 23, 2010 Sprint Center

Inside Kansas State’s film room, the coaching staff popped in a tape: No. 1 Duke. Footage of Blue Devils — from Smith to Singler, and Mason and Miles Plumlee — appeared. Head coach Frank Martin went over their strengths and weaknesses. When it came time to break down Irving — silence. “With Kyrie,” Martin remembers, “there were no weaknesses.” Coach assigned Jacob Pullen, his senior preseason first-team All-American, the task of slowing down Duke’s freshman point guard on both sides of the ball. The night before the game, Kansas State’s Shane Southwell and Rodney McGruder got a knock on their hotel room door. It was Irving. He and Southwell had known each other since they were preteens.

Shane SouthwellFreshman guard, Kansas State

He came up to the room to hang out. … We talked … laughed … pretty much had a normal conversation.

Rodney McGruderSophomore guard, Kansas State

They were talking about how Kyrie’s freshman year was hard.

Shane SouthwellFreshman guard, Kansas State

The night before, Duke beat Marquette … but you could tell Kyrie was already shifted and ready to play against Kansas State. His mind was on a mission.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

That type of game is something you wanna relish in … you want to run full-head with it. It’s on national TV, it’s my first championship in college, against the No. 4-ranked team in the country. I had a few friends on the team, so [I] just wanted to play well.

Nolan SmithSenior guard, Duke

He wanted to come into college basketball and go at those top guards. Jacob Pullen was one of those guards.

After wearing No. 11 at St. Patrick High School (left), Kyrie Irving became the first player to wear No. 1 (right) under head coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. (Photos by Steve Boyle (left) and Doron Gild)

Shane SouthwellFreshman guard, Kansas State

I remember a play at half court, Jacob is pressuring the ball, and Kyrie was dribbling, dribbling, dribbling, and crossed over and went by him. The left-hand layup he did looked so effortless and pretty. It wasn’t an easy play, but it was an easy play for him.

Frank MartinHead coach, Kansas State

Jacob had been able to score and do whatever he wanted to do … for two years against a lot of real good players. Then that day, Kyrie took Jacob completely out of the game. Jacob couldn’t get the ball anywhere we needed it to run our offense. It was all Kyrie.

Pullen made only one shot that night on 12 attempts and turned the ball over four times. Irving finished the game with 17 points and was named the tournament’s MVP.

Mason PlumleeSophomore forward, Duke

Kyrie was like, ‘We’re going to win the game,’ and ‘I’m going to put on a show’ … and ‘I’m gonna get MVP.’

Game 6 Duke vs. Oregon (98–71) Nov. 27, 2010 Rose Garden Arena

Singler vs. Singler. That’s how Duke’s trip to Portland was billed: the first college on-court college meeting between Duke’s senior star Singler, and his younger brother, E.J. Singler, a sophomore for the home-state Ducks. Kyle Singler went for 30, and E.J. Singler for 14, in front of dad, Ed, and mom, Kris, who wore a custom half-Duke, half-Oregon shirt to the game. The undercard of the matchup was just as compelling: Irving’s trash talk vs. everybody.

Joevan CatronSenior forward, Oregon

I scored a couple baskets, and I remember him talking to Nolan and Kyle like, ‘This guy is scoring too much! This is Duke! Nobody should score against us!’

Ty NaredJunior forward, Oregon

I was guarding Kyle, then had to switch over on Kyrie. He hit me with probably the quickest crossover I’ve experienced in my life and did a little finger roll. The next play down … he’s telling us all how we sucked … and that we’re scared … and he didn’t know why they even put Oregon on their schedule.

Malcolm ArmsteadJunior guard, Oregon

The Eurosteps and change of pace in his game, you could tell he was around pros for some time.

“I thought, ‘Ima get back and take a charge, then he hit me with a Euro step and laid it in. I was like, ‘Oh … f–k!’ — Oregon’s Garrett Sim (center, in white) on facing Kyrie Irving on Nov. 27, 2010. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Ty NaredJunior forward, Oregon

He was getting quick buckets and saying, ‘This is too easy! … I’m about to just sit in the second half!’ [Irving played 12 minutes after halftime.] If I was able to guard him again, I would definitely give him a cheap shot, because he was really pissing me off with his mouth. … But they beat us by 30 … and we knew he was going No. 1 … so we really couldn’t say much.

Game 7 Duke vs. Michigan State (84–79) Dec. 1, 2010 Cameron Indoor Stadium

Back at Duke’s Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center, ESPN rolled on a training room television. As Irving and Mason Plumlee watched the screen, analysts discussed which player, in college basketball, was the early candidate for national player of the year: Brigham Young’s Jimmer Fredette and UConn’s Kemba Walker. There was no mention of Irving, even though he’d averaged a respectable 14.5 points through his first six games. Krzyzewski had given Irving the keys to his Porsche of a program, and he’d been cruising. Yet, in the same time frame, Fredette put up 25 a game and Walker a monster 30 a night, both as seniors. As the analysts debated, Irving delivered his own take: “I could do that.” Per Plumlee, Kyrie uttered this more matter-of-factly than arrogantly. “When he said that,” Plumlee says, “I thought to myself, ‘If this kid wanted to go out and average 30, he could. No problem.’ ” The next game, with Coach K’s 900th career win on the line, No. 1 Duke faced No. 6 Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Draymond GreenJunior forward, Michigan State

I didn’t know much about him.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I remember being mentally prepared for that game.

Nolan SmithSenior guard, Duke

You just kind of saw a different look in Kyrie. And once he got going …

Tom IzzoHead coach, Michigan State

He torched us … he kicked our butt. We had a pretty good team, but he kind of single-handedly did it.

Draymond GreenJunior forward, Michigan State

You could just see he was different. We threw everything we had at Kyrie. Nothing fazed him.

Tom IzzoHead coach, Michigan State

Lightning quick. Acrobatic shots. He was one of the best players I ever saw at guard.

Mike KrzyzewskiHead coach, Duke

I gave him the opportunity to follow whatever reads were available, and he was becoming more and more comfortable.

Nolan SmithSenior guard, Duke

Effortlessly, too. It wasn’t like he was forcing anything. He just knew that was his game, and we were just gonna watch him play.

Nolan Smith, Duke senior guard Duke vs. Michigan State

Footage courtesy of ESPN

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

You see all the NBA scouts there … you wanna play well.

Draymond GreenJunior forward, Michigan State

I think we got him drafted No. 1.

With the performance, Irving became the first Duke freshman since J.J. Redick in 2003 to score 30 or more points in a game.

Nick PotterAssistant director of athletic rehabilitation, Duke

Against Michigan State, he does everything. … At that point, it hits you that this kid is unbelievable. … Sitting next to our strength coach and our trainer, I said, ‘Kyrie might not be here for much longer.’

Tom IzzoHead coach, Michigan State

A week or so later, he got hurt … and it was over.

Game 8 Duke vs. Butler (82–70) Dec. 4, 2010 IZOD Center

Eight games into his college career, Irving returned home, where the stage couldn’t have been bigger. The No. 1 and undefeated Duke Blue Devils vs. Butler in a rematch of the previous season’s national championship. The game took place at East Rutherford, New Jersey’s, Izod Center, 15 miles from St. Patrick. “My whole family was there,” says Irving, “and I didn’t want to disappoint them.” He had a quiet first half with just four points and zero assists in a game tied at 33 at halftime. Coach K dug into his point guard, who emerged from the locker room as a different beast en route to a 17-point second half. But with 4:12 left in the game, it happened — a play barely anyone can remember, because at the time, it seemed like nothing at all.

Andre DawkinsSophomore guard, Duke

I swung it to him in the corner. He drove baseline and just pulled up.

Brad StevensHead coach, Butler

Matt Howard closed out long on him …

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I ended up being on that wing and then misstepped.

Shelvin MackJunior guard, Butler

He stepped on Matt Howard’s foot? Or Matt kicked him? … Something like that.

Ronald NoredJunior guard, Butler

I was on the bench, but I do remember him hitting his toe on Matt Howard’s foot.

Shelvin MackJunior guard, Butler

Matt got some size 18s.

Nolan SmithSenior guard, Duke

I feel like he just stubbed his toe. Something you see in a lot of basketball games. People hit their toes all the time.

Kyrie Irving grimacing in pain after injuring his right big toe in the second half against Butler on Dec. 4, 2010. (Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)

Matt HowardSenior forward, Butler

It seemed like a very harmless play.

Miles PlumleeJunior forward, Duke

We didn’t realize that he was really injured.

Zach HahnSenior guard, Butler

I remember him falling down, getting help and then gimping off the court.

Nick PotterAssistant director of athletic rehabilitation, Duke

It really seemed like nothing. I remember he said, ‘I jammed my toe.’ So we looked at it … but it didn’t present as major. Then it starts to subside, and it’s, ‘Oh, it doesn’t hurt so bad anymore … I can move, I can walk, I can run.’

Mike KrzyzewskiHead coach, Duke

He went back in the game … it was so unusual.

No whistle was blown for a foul on the play. Just a 30-second official injury timeout. While Potter and the team’s trainer, Jose Fonseca, attended to Irving’s toe, 1:26 elapsed off the game clock. Irving checked back in at the scorer’s table, returned to the floor and played another 1:44.

Matt HowardSenior forward, Butler

He didn’t turn the ankle or come down hard on my foot, so I imagine there was something that had probably happened before to cause that significant of an injury.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

It was a ticking time bomb, with what I was born with in my feet. … I had no idea.

The day after beating Butler, sustained pain in Irving’s foot led to further evaluation on his right big toe: X-rays and MRIs. Duke ruled the point guard out indefinitely. Months later, Irving revealed that he’d been born with an extra sesamoid bone in his right big toe, one more than he has in his left, and the impact of Howard stepping on his foot tore connective ligaments. The presentation of the injury was unlike anything Duke’s medical staff had seen, so they called around for opinions on how to approach recovery. Nick Potter and Jose Fonseca drove Irving to Charlotte to meet with Bob Anderson, one of the most renowned foot specialists in sports medicine. Irving chose the no-surgery route because he wanted to play again that season. But Coach K had his doubts. “I never thought he’d make it back,” he says now. As for the Cavs? “None of us thought at the time he was going to try to be in the draft.”

“I ended up being on that wing and then misstepped.”Kyrie Irving

Irving’s foot was encased in a cast on 10 to 15 separate occasions. His cast would be removed once, or sometimes twice, a week to allow for manual therapy so his foot could be mobilized and so its soft tissue could remain elastic. As his teammates practiced on the court, Irving spent two hours every day with Potter, participating in everything from hip and core strength exercises to pool workouts, and all the way up to weight-bearing movement. When he wasn’t in a cast, he wore a walking boot or a carbon fiber shank in his shoe to decrease stress on his toe.

“It was s—ty,” Irving says of his rehab. “You have to do things that are abnormal … while knowing that there’s a goal at hand — and that was to get back on the floor.” Bradley, Saint Louis, Elon, UNC-Greensboro, Miami (home and away), Alabama-Birmingham, Maryland (home, away and ACC tournament), Florida State, Virginia (home and away), North Carolina State (home and away), Wake Forest, Boston College, St. John’s, UNC (home, away and ACC tournament), Georgia Tech, Temple, Virginia Tech (away and ACC tournament) and Clemson — for each one of these games, Irving sat on the sideline in street clothes and observed.

“I think the biggest lesson Kyrie learned was when he wasn’t playing,” says Jay Williams. “It forced him to see the game from a different perspective.”

Kyrie Irving spent three months, two weeks, 26 games and 1,044 minutes and 41 seconds of game time watching from the sideline before making a return to the court against Hampton in the round of 64 of the 2011 NCAA tournament. (Photos by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images; Streeter Lecka/Getty Images; Lance King/Getty Images; and Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

(Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving spent three months, two weeks, 26 games and 1,044 minutes and 41 seconds of game time watching from the sideline before making a return to the court against Hampton in the round of 64 of the 2011 NCAA tournament. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

Game 9 Duke vs. Hampton (87–45) March 18, 2011 Time Warner Cable Arena

First came 5-on-0 drills. One-on-one turned into 3-on-3 and, although he didn’t play, Irving warmed up on the court with his teammates before Duke’s 75-58 win over North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship on March 12, 2011. “There’s a possibility of it happening,” Irving said after the game. “I can’t put a percentage on it.” The day before Duke squared off with Hampton University in the opening round of the Big Dance, Coach K confirmed to reporters that Irving would come off the bench and play limited minutes.

Kwame MorganJunior guard, Hampton

We were preparing for Nolan Smith to be point guard. We weren’t preparing for Kyrie Irving.

Jay WilliamsDuke point guard, 1999-2002; No. 2 overall pick in the 2002 draft; ESPN college basketball analyst since 2008

I was vehemently against Kyrie coming back to play. I was afraid of him getting hurt again … but he came back for himself, whatever that reason is.

Mike KrzyzewskiHead coach, Duke

I don’t regret playing him … but he was like 50 percent of what he could be.

Irving checked in at the first half’s 15:19 mark.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

Hell, I was nervous …

“He did make mistakes, but he never put his head down. He never seemed shook.”Dwight Buycks

Kwame MorganJunior guard, Hampton

He came out timid at first, but you could tell, when he hit the switch …

Nick PotterAssistant director of athletic rehabilitation, Duke

He moved great. But that’s where a lot of people say, ‘Man … he came back and didn’t miss a step.’ Well, he missed a lot of steps. He was out for a long time, but he worked his butt off.

Kwame MorganJunior guard, Hampton

I remember one play. He called an isolation on a guy on our team. He made a vicious crossover … shoots it from like 2 feet from behind the 3-point line. He makes the shot, turns around, just hits his chest and says, ‘I’m back! … I’m back!’

Game 10 Duke vs. Michigan (72–70) March 20, 2011 Time Warner Cable Arena

Irving had seemingly recovered. But playing two games in less than 48 hours? His body couldn’t handle the quick turnaround, but this is what he signed up for. A matchup against Michigan was the only thing that separated the Blue Devils from a spot in the Sweet 16, and Irving from a chance to extend his freshman season a little bit longer. Win or lose, the game would mark his final time playing in North Carolina in a Duke uniform.

Josh BartelsteinJunior guard, Michigan

It was basically a home game for Duke … and you could feel it. Every time he’d dribble in warm-ups or run on the court, it was kind of like a mythical experience. Like this guy is actually playing … he’s healthy. You had a sense there was something bigger going on. It’s hard to quantify … but people were so fascinated by the player he was going to be.

Zack NovakJunior guard, Michigan

There was speculation around what guy was gonna show up to play. Our coach prepared us for the guy who was gonna be the first pick in the draft. We took it pretty seriously, but we knew he was hurt.

Only one field goal attempt dropped for Kyrie Irving against Michigan in the NCAA tournament — a clutch, go-ahead bucket with 32 seconds left. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I remember being out there and not necessarily having my legs underneath me. Hadn’t been playing in months, but I had to go back out there and compete again.

Josh BartelsteinJunior guard, Michigan

He didn’t have the explosiveness — the ability to get wherever he wanted to finish … but he’s probably the reason in the last four minutes they kind of stayed in control. He was getting in people’s bodies, drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line.

Irving didn’t have a single basket in his first 20 minutes. Yet, with 1:02 left in the game and Duke down 70-69, Coach K gave the ball to his starting point guard.

Zack NovakJunior guard, Michigan

We were running a 1-3-1 defense and Kyrie came down, hit one of our guys with a move and hit a 10-foot bank shot.

Josh BartelsteinJunior guard, Michigan

As soon as it left his hand, I was like, ‘That’s not the guy you want shooting.’ … It was the only shot he made all game.

Mike KrzyzewskiHead coach, Duke

You put him in a situation, and you allow him to make a read. And that was the read he saw.

Nolan SmithSenior guard, Duke

Kyrie being Kyrie — as simple as that.

Game 11 Arizona vs. Duke (93–77) March 24, 2011 Honda Center

The basketball gods couldn’t have written a better chapter to this saga. Arizona vs. Duke in the Sweet 16 meant Derrick Williams vs. Kyrie Irving, the two most heralded NBA prospects in college basketball. Both were in the conversation for the No. 1 pick. In the mind of Irving, who turned 19 the day before the game, the implications of the matchup had to set off sirens.

Derrick WilliamsSophomore forward, Arizona

Regardless of how they lost, Kyrie really showed what he could do. That’s all you can ask: Is he healthy? And can he play? He answered both of those questions with that type of performance.

Nolan SmithSenior guard, Duke

Kyrie went down swinging … fighting … trying to get us a win.

Irving scored 28 points off the bench but was outdueled by Williams, who dropped 32 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, as Arizona ended Duke’s run at back-to-back national titles. It was the eleventh and final game of Irving’s college career.

Derrick WilliamsSophomore forward, Arizona

I honestly didn’t think that somebody could come back from a foot injury looking that good. Imagine if he would have had a week or two extra to get his legs back. It might have been a different outcome.

Miles PlumleeJunior forward, Duke

Kyrie gave it his everything. He played his heart out those few games we got him back for the tournament.

Duke’s loaded 2010-11 roster featured three players who would go on to be taken in the 2011 NBA draft — Kyrie Irving (bottom row, far right), Nolan Smith (bottom row, third from right) and Kyle Singler (bottom row, holding basketball). (Courtesy of Duke University)

Mason PlumleeSophomore forward, Duke

As good as Derrick Williams played, I think everybody who had been around Kyrie kind of figured he was going to be the No. 1 pick.

David GriffinVice president of basketball operations, Cleveland Cavaliers

What it showed, that he came back at all in that tournament, Kyrie’s really a competitor. … It’s less important that it helped his case than it is revealing of who he is.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I’ll never forget that game. I felt like there was more that I wanted to get out of playing with Coach K, playing with great players on a college level. I was just so excited about the opportunity to go after something bigger than ourselves. We had an unbelievable team. … You feel like you left a little bit on the table, in terms of the experience.

Irving leaned on the advice of his father as he contemplated whether to return to Duke for his sophomore season or to make the jump to the NBA. “It’s a little unfair for you to be at Duke right now,” the elder Irving told his son. “You’re around your teammates, you still feel the energy, you feel like you still owe them a piece of you.”

Kyrie says now, “I was definitely considering staying. That was a strong feeling. … I wanted to stay, truth be told.”

Coach K doesn’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but he knows he was realistic. “I wouldn’t let him come back. He needed to go.”

Irving flew home to New Jersey and weighed his options with his family, and on April 6, 2011, he announced he would enter his name in the NBA draft.

Despite playing just 11 college games, Kyrie Irving was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA draft. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Andre DawkinsSophomore guard, Duke

He didn’t belong in college for any extended amount of time. He was an NBA player.

Mason PlumleeSophomore forward, Duke

Once he’s talking about shoe contracts in the gym after the season’s over, you’re like, ‘All right … he’s not coming back.’

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

You think about big picture. If you get a chance to be a professional at 19, you should go after it.

Mike KrzyzewskiHead coach, Duke

Unless somebody was really dumb, he was going to be the first pick.

A month after Irving declared, the Cleveland Cavaliers were presented with the top overall selection (a pick that wasn’t even originally theirs) at the annual NBA draft lottery. How would Cleveland use it? “I would’ve been stunned,” Griffin says, “if we didn’t take Kyrie.” Cleveland would choose between Irving and Derrick Williams.

Derrick WilliamsSophomore forward, Arizona

About 1:30 left on the clock. That’s when my agent told me, ‘They’re going to pick Kyrie first, and [the Timberwolves are] going to pick you second.’

David GriffinVice president of basketball operations, Cleveland Cavaliers

It was fairly unprecedented to take a 6-2 guard No. 1. Let alone a 6-2 guard … coming off of a major injury who only played 11 college games.

Derrick WilliamsSophomore forward, Arizona

Not too many people can get drafted that high off of that many games.

Ronald NoredJunior guard, Butler

To us that played against him, there was no question — he was No. 1 for a reason.

Frank MartinHead coach, Kansas State

Even in that short window of games he played, I thought he was the best player in college basketball. He was one of those guys that whenever I retire and say I’m done … knowing that I had to coach against Kyrie is one of those moments that will never escape me.

Tom IzzoHead coach, Michigan State

It’s almost sick. I wish I knew him better, you know? I wish I knew his work ethic … he’s gotta be a grinder. You can’t just do that. Nobody does that.

Draymond GreenJunior forward, Michigan State

You thought … he’d be good, but not this good. I never expected him to be this good, coming into the NBA.

Ty NaredJunior forward, Oregon

It’s one of the best stories ever for any college basketball player that was one-and-done. To play not even half your freshman year, you go No. 1 and become a superstar in the NBA? That’s just ludicrous.

Mike KrzyzewskiHead coach, Duke

Unless there’s a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, Kyrie would be No. 1 in any draft. He’s that good. … I loved coaching that kid … but if I could change something, I’d change that he [got] injured … to see where that year would go, not just for a national championship but how he would play and what he would do.

Kyrie IrvingFreshman guard, Duke

I feel like I’ve made it up. And I want to consistently make it up on the NBA level, in order to show people, like, ‘Man, if we would’ve saw this guy play in college … for more than 11 games, it would’ve been pretty incredible.’

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Where they are now:

Kyrie Irving: NBA Rookie of the Year (2011), five-time All-Star (2013-15, 2017-18), NBA champion (2016); traded from Cleveland Cavaliers to Boston Celtics in 2017.

Sydney Johnson: Head coach at Fairfield University.

Dan Mavraides: Investment analyst in California; member of USA Basketball’s 2017 3-on-3 World Cup team.

Julian Mavunga: Plays professionally for Kyoto Hannar in Japan.

Quinten Rollins: Fourth-year cornerback for the Green Bay Packers.

Mike Venezia: Director of student-athlete development, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Emmett Davis: Assistant coach at Navy.

Mitch Rolls: Head women’s basketball coach at Labette Community College.

Dwight Buycks: Undrafted in 2011; current point guard for the Detroit Pistons.

Junior Cadougan: Second-year point guard for the National Basketball League of Canada’s London Lightning.

David Griffin: General manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2014-16.

Shane Southwell: Graduate assistant for the Kansas State men’s basketball team.

Rodney McGruder: Second-year shooting guard for the Miami Heat.

Nolan Smith: Selected 21st overall in 2011 NBA draft; special assistant to the Duke men’s basketball team.

Frank Martin: Head coach at the University of South Carolina.

Mason Plumlee: Selected 22nd overall in the 2013 NBA draft; current sixth-year center for the Denver Nuggets.

Joevan Catron: Basketball coach and business owner, living in Eugene, Oregon.

Ty Nared: Played professionally for Alcazar in Spain, 2016-2017.

Malcolm Armstead: Plays professionally for the Rethymno Cretan Kings in Greece.

Draymond Green: Power forward for the Golden State Warriors; three-time All-Star (2016-18), two-time NBA champion (2015, 2017) and NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2017).

Tom Izzo: Head coach at Michigan State.

Mike Krzyzewski: Head coach at Duke.

Nick Potter: Assistant director of athletic rehabilitation at Duke.

Andre Dawkins: Fifth-year G League player for the Agua Caliente Clippers.

Brad Stevens: Head coach of the Boston Celtics.

Shelvin Mack: 10th-year point guard for the Orlando Magic.

Ronald Nored: Head coach of the Long Island Nets of the NBA’s G League.

Matt Howard: Plays professionally for Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel.

Zach Hahn: Head basketball coach at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana.

Miles Plumlee: Selected 26th overall in the 2012 NBA draft; current center for the Atlanta Hawks.

Kwame Morgan: Dean of students at Drew-Freeman Middle School in Suitland, Maryland.

Jay Williams: ESPN college basketball analyst.

Josh Bartelstein: Author of the 2013 book We On: An Inside Look at Michigan’s Final Four Run; chief of staff, Palace Sports Entertainment.

Zack Novak: Director of business ventures for the Chicago-based computer software company Uptake.

Derrick Williams: Selected No. 2 overall in the 2011 NBA draft; current forward for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Liner Notes

Illustration by Nigel Buchanan.

Aaron Dodson is a sports and culture writer at Andscape. He primarily writes on sneakers/apparel and hosts the platform’s Sneaker Box video series. During Michael Jordan’s two seasons playing for the Washington Wizards in the early 2000s, the “Flint” Air Jordan 9s sparked his passion for kicks.