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Shortly after conducting a practice in late October, Mike Krzyzewski sat courtside in Cameron Indoor Stadium and unflinchingly answered a presumptive question: Is Kyrie Irving the best freshman point guard you have ever recruited to Duke? "Coming in, yeah," Krzyzewski said. "He has to play really well to end up being better than Bobby Hurley, and Jason Williams was more of a scorer when he got here. Maturitywise, I liken [Irving] to Tommy Amaker."
Coach K & Co. are expecting big things in Durham, and so is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, which is why the Blue Devils are the magazine's choice to repeat as NCAA champions in 2011.
Though Duke lost three senior starters from last season's championship team, it still has arguably the preeminent tandem in the country in seniors Kyle Singler, a 6'8" forward, and 6'3" guard Nolan Smith. They'll be joined by Irving, who is the kind of dynamic point guard this program has not had since Williams left in 2002.
Though he may evoke comparisons from Duke's past, Irving's game more closely resembles that of another former ACC stud—Wake Forest's Chris Paul, who is currently an All-Star with the New Orleans Hornets. And as he showed with his 21-point, 10-rebound, five-assist performance in Team USA's gold medal win over Brazil at last summer's Under-18 championships, Irving knows how to excel on a grand stage. This season he has the added bonus of playing alongside a veteran cast to help him adjust.
"One thing I told him is to just have fun and relax," Smith says. "I told him he doesn't have any pressure. He has seniors on his left and his right in Kyle and myself. We're his big brothers, and we have his back."
As long as the Blue Devils stay healthy and keep their focus, it will be up to their freshman prodigy to do what point guards do best: deliver.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Mike Krzyzewski (31st season)
2009--10 record 35--5
ACC 13--3 (T-1st)