NCAA: Krzyzewski: Irving could return for Duke’s opener
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) – Injured Duke point guard Kyrie Irving could return for the Blue Devils’ NCAA tournament opener, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday night.
Krzyzewski said Irving practiced “a little bit” with the team Tuesday, but he won’t know for a few days whether the freshman will be available for the top-seeded Blue Devils’ West Regional opener against 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday in Charlotte.
“There is a chance that he would play,” Krzyzewski said.
The coach added that if Irving does come back, he won’t start, would see only limited minutes and wouldn’t be on the court for extended periods of time.
“You don’t want to get where he gets hurt and hurts something else because you extend him past” his limits, Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils will hold their pre-NCAA tournament open practice Thursday at the arena in Charlotte and “we’ll know a heck of a lot more by then,” Krzyzewski said.
Irving, a playmaking point guard with a quick first step, was the leader of Duke’s uptempo attack – and the team’s leading scorer with an average of 17.4 points – when he injured the big toe on his right foot in a win against Butler on Dec. 4.
Not long after that, Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils were prepared to play the rest of the season without him. Irving spent nearly two months in a hard cast to keep the toe immobilized, and his right foot was in a boot after that.
Speculation about his status intensified during the past week. Irving performed on-court drills in shorts and sneakers with the Blue Devils’ training staff before their ACC quarterfinal against Maryland, switching to street clothes for the game.
Then after Duke’s title-game victory, Irving said there was a chance he could return sometime during the tournament. Krzyzewski later said that was a long way off and downplayed the comments as a young player getting caught up in the emotion of missing out on a championship.
“I’m going day by day, because I never expected him to be where he’s at today,” Krzyzewski said. “This is like uncharted waters.”
Both Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils insist Irving’s possible return wouldn’t threaten the chemistry developed over the past three months without him. Duke (30-4) went 22-4 in his absence, rolling to a third straight ACC tournament title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
“All the guys, if he’s able to play, would welcome him back,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s been the best guy ever on a sideline with his teammates. It’d be different if he wasn’t that way. I think that would be a smooth transition, and if we’re fortunate enough to win, and he’s able to play, then you get more accustomed to it.”
Said forward Kyle Singler: “Personally, I don’t think he’s missed a beat. … He just fits in.”
Irving’s injury forced senior Nolan Smith to shift to the point and help make up for his absence at both ends of the court.
After a rough first game in that role, Smith responded. He not only became Duke’s leading scorer, he led the ACC in scoring. Smith finished the season with at least 15 points in 22 straight games and 24 of 25 overall. Along the way, he flirted with the conference lead in assists and claimed two of the ACC’s top awards: Player of the year and MVP of the tournament.
Irving’s possible return would take some pressure off Smith, who might not have to guard the opposing team’s primary ball-handler quite as often.
“If (Irving) does happen to come back and play, I think it would be very easy for him to fit right in and help us win games,” Smith said. “He’s obviously that talented. He wants to be part of winning, more than anything. If he gets back on the court with us, we’ll just keep on rolling.”