NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — The way Roy Williams sees it, Kyrie Irving has helped Duke launch ahead of North Carolina in two ways.
First, Irving played the point his senior year at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick, preventing current Carolina sophomore Dexter Strickland from doing so.
Then Irving went ahead and committed to Duke, the defending NCAA champions.
“I’m really mad at Kyrie,” Williams said last week at the Peach Jam. “I don’t like Kyrie. I do laugh at that and say that with tongue in cheek.”
Williams was under the impression that Strickland would play the point his senior year at St. Patrick, but when Irving transferred in from Montclair (N.J.) Kimberley, he played the point and Strickland stayed at the two. The duo led the Celtics to the 2009 New Jersey Tournament of Champions title, their third in four years.
“[St. Patrick coach] Kevin Boyle was going to play Dexter at the point his senior year and Dexter’s never played the point and I thought that’s what he was going to be in college,” Williams said.
“Kyrie goes in and so no longer is Dexter playing the point cause Kyrie’s so great,” Williams added. “I already told Kyrie, ‘You really made me mad. You played the point so Dexter didn’t get to do that and then you went to Duke too so you really made me mad.’
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski already said Duke will “change our whole offense” with the addition of Irving.
Now Williams says the Blue Devils could even be better with him than they were last year.
When they won the NCAA title over Butler.
“Kyrie’s fantastic,” Williams said. “I really believe this. Duke won a national championship last year but they might even be better this year because Kyrie is so good and just gives them so much of a threat.”
Of course, Carolina has its own super-frosh in Harrison Barnes, one of Irving’s closest friends.
Can Barnes, the No. 2 player in the Class of 2010, live up to the hype and help Carolina rebound from last year’s 20-17 season that ended with a loss to Dayton in the NIT title game?
“He can definitely be an impact freshman,” Williams said of Barnes. “He’s not gonna do what everybody says because their expectations are off the charts, just ridiculous. Harrison’s never gonna please anybody’s expectations but in saying that he’s gonna be a heck of college player and I expect he’ll be a huge, huge impact for us this year.”
Carolina lost Ed Davis to the NBA, Deon Thompson to graduation and David and Travis Wear to transfer, but Williams expects the Heels to be deeper and more experienced.
“Harrison and Reggie Bullock both bring an ability to score and that’s one of the problems that we had last year was scoring,” Williams said. “And [7-foot junior] Tyler Zeller is a year more experienced. John Henson I think got some valuable experience at the end of the year, playing more minutes.
“With John Henson, Zeller, Larry Drew, Dexter, Leslie [McDonald] we had some guys who were in the game at important times and they’ve got to do it again this year and you add the freshmen to them, we’ve got quality in seven or eight players that are either gifted or who have some experience.
“We’re not nearly as inexperienced as we were last year and hopefully that will help us.”
But don’t expect Williams to forgive Kyrie Irving anytime soon.
(Photos courtesy Irving family and Robert Crawford/ SI.com)
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.