ELIZABETH, N.J. — Only a handful of onlookers were there Monday evening when Kyrie Irving drained four straight 3-pointers, two from midcourt, in the bandbox that is the St. Patrick High School gym.
“It’s great coming back to St. Pat’s,” Irving, who, along with North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland and Kentucky wing Michael Gilchrist, helped St. Patrick win the New Jersey Tournament of Champions in 2009, told SNY.tv. “St. Pat’s gave me a lot, basket-wise, academically, so it’s always good to come back and play. “And it’s good just to get a few shots up here with the guys and support them.” Strickland, a two guard on the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the nation, was also at Monday’s run, and he and Irving playfully pushed and shoved one another while running on opposing teams. The game also featured Rutgers guard Eli Carter, St. Bonaventure forward Da’Quan Cook, George Mason forward Paris Bennett and many of the current St. Pat’s players, including the team’s two most talented players, junior wings Deandre Bembry and Jared Nickens. Few high school basketball programs in the country can produce an impromptu alumni game of this quality. And consider that St. Pat’s alums like Gilchrist, Corey Fisher, Shaheen Holloway, Sam Dalembert and Al Harrington weren’t even there on this night. “It’s great talent, it’s great talent,” Irving said. “We’re just enjoying ourselves out here, that’s it.” For a young guy like Collins, the run provided an opportunity to test himself against the No.1 pick in the draft. At one point, the sharp-shooting, diminutive Collins drained a 3-pointer over Irving’s head. On another play, Irving schooled the youngster by driving past Collins for a layup. “Yeah, it is fun, to know that he is No. 1 and you get to play against him,” said Collins, a South River, N.J. native. “It’s competitive. You get to work on playing defense against top players.” First-year St. Pat’s coach Chris Chavannes, who takes over a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for most of last season before losing to St. Anthony in the New Jersey state tournament, said the young players will benefit from playing against Irving and the other guys. “One thing that Jared has to learn is how to have confidence in himself and how to learn to become the man,” Chavannes said. “We as coaches can express that to them, but to hear it from Kyrie and Dexter and these other guys, it means a ton. Especially, they’re closer to their age also, so it’s been very , very helpful in so many ways.” Irving and several other alums drove down to Allentown, N.J. on Saturday to watch the current team play in the Summer Primetime Shootout, where the Celtics went a perfect 4-0. “Yeah, they drove all the way down there in the rain to come sit down and watch our guys play,” Chavannes said. “And he didn’t have to do that, the other guys didn’t have to do that. So it means a lot for him to come back here and give back, whether it’s playing against the guys or coming down and sitting in the stands and supporting us. It’s been tremendous.” Even as Irving made a behind-the-back, out-of-bounds pass to Bennett for a breakaway dunk, he was treated as just another player in the gym. Of course, everyone in the game knew he was the No. 1 pick in the draft, but on this night he was running with many of his former high school teammates as if it were a another St. Pat’s practice two years ago before his one and only season at Duke. “I think that’s what makes St. Pat’s special,” Chavannes said. “If you ever come through the halls of St. Pat’s during the daytime, nobody cares who Kyrie or [former coach] Kevin Boyle was. Everybody’s the same. Everybody just likes each other and gets along with each other.” Of course, Irving is not the same. He’s the No. 1 pick in the draft, but because of the NBA lockout he’s currently without a paycheck or a team. Asked if that was a weird feeling, he said, “Yeah, a little bit. knowing that I’m not getting paid right now and I can’t work out with teammates so it’s hard to think about.” Irving said he plans to split time between New Jersey to Cleveland during the NBA lockout. “Most likely I’m just going to be back and forth to Cleveland and getting acclimated there,” he said. In the meantime, he left Wednesday for a 16-hour flight to Shanghai, China where he and Grant Hill will watch Duke participate in some exhibitions there. Once he returns, Irving could drop in for a few more runs in his old gym, where he’ll just be another St. Patrick Celtic. “It’s all competition,” he said. “It’s always in good fun.” (Video courtesy Dexter Strickland’s Uncle Donny)