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Friday, September 23, 2011
Locked out, shut down: Irving's summer

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Music blared as highlights flashed across a large screen in the corner of the gymnasium. Hundreds of children screamed in the dark as Kyrie Irving's silhouette appeared after a rousing introduction. When the lights came up so did the kids, jumping to their feet and chanting "Go Cavs."

This is the life of a No. 1 overall draft pick. Irving is already a star in greater Cleveland and was getting the full celeb treatment at this appearance Friday morning at Green Primary School in a leafy suburb of Akron.

But right now this isn't Irving's real life. No, reality for him is that he's still very much of a college student. He lives in a rented off-campus house in Durham, N.C., and is taking four classes this semester at Duke, where he's a backpack-toting sophomore majoring in psychology. He may be the only guy on the floor with his own Nike endorsement contract, but Irving works out regularly with his former Blue Devils teammates. It feels more like he's gearing up for midnight madness in a couple weeks and not for the Cavs' potential season opener against Rajon Rondo and the Celtics in Boston.

"I feel like I get the best of both worlds," Irving said with a smile, applying a positive spin. "I get to work out with the team and I get to start my sophomore year and be on track to graduate in five years. I'm just a pro now."

A pro without a team, that is. And a pro who hasn't even gotten to be much of a pro since being selected by the Cavs with the pick back in June.

You may have noticed that you haven't heard much from or about Irving since the draft. Other players from his draft class have been on the radar all summer, whether it's playing in pro-am leagues or exhibitions or taking part in the European championships.

But the most high-profile draft pick has had no profile for a reason. He hasn't even been playing basketball much.

During the single week that the Cavs were allowed to have contact with Irving between the time they drafted him and July 1, when the lockout's iron veil dropped and severed any communication between players and teams, the team's medical personnel and management met with Irving. They couldn't really set too many terms -- Irving hasn't even signed a contract or accepted a check yet -- but they strongly suggested that Irving shut it down for the summer to let his foot continue to heal.

Last fall, after a tremendous start to his freshman season at Duke, Irving suffered a serious injury to his right foot. It was an extreme case of turf toe and kept him out until March, when he returned for the NCAA tournament. While Irving was the odds on favorite to be the top pick, there were executives across the league who were concerned about when Irving would be back to 100 percent. Some wondered if he would be diminished.

The Cavs worked him out individually and examined him before the draft, but they also weighed selecting Arizona's Derrick Williams, who went second overall to the Timberwolves. Some within the league saw it as a bit of a gamble with Irving having played only 11 games in college.

Which is why the Cavs made the suggestion he stop playing for a while and why Irving ended up following it, barely picking up a basketball for the entire summer. He didn't play at all in July or August and only in the last couple of weeks started playing pickup again.

"It was the hardest two months of my life," Irving said. "It was hard to sit on the sidelines. Especially with the amount of exposure everyone was getting in playing in those pro-ams and being everywhere. That was different for me, not being able to work out and get better. Summertime is when my game has gone to a different level every year and that's happened throughout my entire life. It was a learning experience."

At the time of the draft, Irving said his foot was about 80 percent. Friday he said the rest had him now feeling "150 percent."

"I'm healthy," he said. "I have my legs back."

If training camp was starting on time, Irving would probably be behind. With the lockout dragging on as expected, Irving likely will benefit as he starts to work back into shape. He may prefer to be drawing paychecks, but the extra time being afforded to him could allow him to start his rookie season in better overall health. At least, that is the plan.

Also in the plan is to join his new Cavs teammates for some workouts in the upcoming weeks, possibility at Ohio State. Irving is already working on a relationship with Baron Davis, the Cavs' incumbent starting point guard. They weren't able to play at all over the summer but have been in contact.

"I've idolized Baron since I was a kid, he's been in the NBA for so long," Irving said. "He's still got the same talent as when he came in. What better way to enter the league than to have a veteran point guard to learn under? He's definitely going to be a mentor."