INDEPENDENCE, OHIO (AP) - Kyrie Irving’s entourage consisted of one _ his father. Irving didn’t show up with a multimillion-dollar shoe contract, proclamations of greatness, nicknames or tattoos, either.
Cleveland’s newest No. 1 draft pick is far different than the last one. He’s hardly like LeBron James.
And that might be exactly why the Cavaliers love him.
“He’s something special,” said coach Byron Scott.
Irving, who left Duke for the NBA after just one injury-shortened freshman season, was introduced Friday by the Cavaliers along with Texas forward Tristan Thompson, the club’s No. 4 overall pick. During a 20-minute question-and-answer session, Irving displayed some of the cool and confidence that convinced Cleveland the point guard was the perfect choice to lead them back into contention.
Dressed sharply in a tailored gray suit accented with a pale blue tie, the fresh-faced Irving handled queries about expectations, the league’s labor issues and other topics with the ease of a seasoned veteran. As he does on the court with the ball in his hands, the 19-year-old ran the show.
As first impressions go, Irving was flawless _ well, almost.
The Cavaliers were in the process of presenting Irving and Thompson with their respective wine-and-gold home jerseys _ Irving will wear No. 15, Thompson No. 13 _ when Drederick Irving noticed his son’s pants were unzipped. Without causing a scene, he simply nodded and lowered his eyes at Kyrie, who got the sign and quickly fixed things to avoid an embarrassing moment.
No one seemed to notice. Kyrie smiled at his dad for another loving assist.
On Thursday night, when his name was called by commissioner David Stern as the Cavaliers’ choice, Irving had to summon all his strength not to become too emotional and break down. After all, Drederick Irving was the one who taught him how to play, the one who had raised him to be his own man, the one who had to take over after his beloved wife, Kyrie’s mother, Elizabeth, died suddenly 15 years ago.
This was their dream, and the path to it wasn’t always easy.
“After my name was called,” Irving said. “I wanted to hug my father for 10 minutes, knowing that all the hard work had led to this moment.”
Even a day later, Drederick Irving’s head was still spinning.
“It’s still surreal,” he said as his son posed for photos with school kids the Cavaliers invited to the news conference. “It’s a surreal moment for Kyrie. It couldn’t be better for any other person than Kyrie. He’s a hard worker, a good kid. He gets it. He got the blueprint with what I tried to instill in him as a kid.
“You guys are getting a gem and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father. He has another gear that people haven’t seen. He’s a special kid.”
The Cavaliers, one season removed from James‘ departure, have known that for a long time.
Although there was speculation they considered taking Arizona forward Derrick Williams with the first pick, the choice was really Irving all along. He was on top of their draft board all season, and after winning the lottery in May, it was inevitable he would be the selection.
“We’ll let them fight it out,” Scott said, smiling. “There are no expectations on Kyrie as a starter or anything like that. We expect Kyrie to come in, work hard and get better each and every day, learn from some of the veterans we have. There is opportunity because of the way I coach, he’ll probably be playing with Baron as well.
“When you have those two guys in the backcourt who both handle the ball and make great decisions and make other people better, it makes us a better basketball team.”
Without coming off as arrogant, Irving knows he can make the Cavaliers better right away. He’s not expecting to be given the starting job because of where he was drafted. And although there may be external pressure to live up to others’ ambitions, Irving first needs to satisfy his own.
“I hold myself at such a high standard that the expectations people put on me, I try to exceed those,” he said. “And more importantly, I try to exceed mine. Right now, I’m really just focused on this opportunity and being part of the Cleveland organization and just contributing as much as I can. This season coming up, I’m really focused on being one of the leaders on the team along with others. This is a young team and I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Thompson’s selection was viewed as somewhat of a surrpise by draft experts, who think the Cavaliers may have “reached” by taking the 20-year-old. Thompson played just one season with the Longhorns and was thought to be a late first-round pick. Grant, though, said the club has been scouting the 6-foot-8 power forward since high school and had him rated among this draft’s best.
“We actually had him ranked much higher than fourth,” Grant said.
Scott can’t wait to get his two new players on the floor. After enduring a 63-loss season, the Cavaliers want to move forward and Scott believes Irving and Thompson can quicken the team’s rebuilding project.
“We said going into the draft, if we can get these two guys at No. 1 and No. 4, it would be a home run,” he said. “Well, we hit a home run.”
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