Kyrie Irving became friends with John Wall after the two met during Irving’s recruiting visit to Kentucky during his senior year at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. They’ve never played against each other, but they have a pretty good relationship – though Wall couldn’t convince Irving to pick the Wildcats over Duke. And, they’re likely to soon share a bond as No. 1 overall picks in the NBA draft.
Wall recognizes the pressures that come with being selected No. 1 overall, and when he crossed paths with Irving last week at the NBA lottery in Secaucus, N.J., not only did he let Irving know that he was headed to Cleveland before the telecast – is he psychic? – but he also tried to share some of his experiences from his past season in Washington.
“I talked to him, and told him, just come in and play your game, but you’ve got to learn. It’s going to be a learning process,” Wall said last week. “You’re not going to get certain calls. People are going to go at you certain ways. You’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared for this level. I think he’s good enough to do it if he just stays focused.”
Irving played only 11 games at Duke because of a right toe injury, but said that he wouldn’t have considered coming out if not for his three-game run in the NCAA tournament. He scored 28 points in his final game, but got upstaged by Arizona’s Derrick Williams, who had 32 points and 13 rebounds in a 93-77 upset.
“I truly believe that I wouldn’t have come out if I had only played eight games,” Irving said. “I came back for the NCAA tournament, one, to prove to everyone that I was ready and, two, I just wanted to stop all the questions about whether I was healthy or not, or whether this toe injury was going to be a lingering effect on my career.”
Irving said he has tried to pattern his game after Chris Paul (his favorite player), Chauncey Billups and Derrick Rose, while following Paul in the way that he carries himself on and off the court. He isn’t the same kind of dynamic athlete as Rose, Wall or Russell Westbrook. And he didn’t attempt to dispute that notion when, on the advice of his agent, Jeff Wechsler, Irving skipped all the drills and speed and agility testing at the NBA combine.
Irving in measured at 6-feet-3½ but also had 10.2 percent body fat, a shockingly-high number for a guard but also reflective of the foot injury that kept him immobile for nearly three months. He said that he has Paul’s quickness when he’s “at 150 percent. Right now, I’m at 114 percent.”
Wall had his own challenges stepping into a losing situation in Washington, but Irving wouldn’t just join a lousy team in Cleveland. He’ll also be asked to fill the crater-sized hole that LeBron James left behind when he sought refuge in Miami. Though Cavaliers fans view James with disdain, Irving said he considers him a friend who filled “a big brother role in my life” and helped encourage him during his time away last season.
“That situation isn’t weird for me,” said Irving, who only has one workout scheduled with the Cavaliers. “I’m not in Cleveland yet. Cleveland hasn’t drafted me yet. When that time comes, I don’t think...comparisons are going to come regardless. That’s something I’m prepared for. As of right now I just want to contribute to whatever team I go to or whatever teams wants to draft me. That’s all I’m concerned about.”
During his discussion with Wall on the night of the draft lottery, Irving said Wall told him, “to keep my head high. That was one of the things. That I was going to go through the rookie ups and downs and just the whole process, just enjoy it.”
Wall knows how quickly the situation changes when games get played. And it’s only a matter of time before the two share the court for the first time. “I told him, ‘I’ll see you around,’ ” Wall said.