The first time I was in the same room as Kyrie Irving was at last year's McDonald's All American Game. At the time I had no idea that one year later he'd find himself selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and enter the NBA carrying the hopes of a rebuilding franchise on his shoulders. If I did, I'd have probably tried to talk to him then, but instead our first exchange would come a year later.
I stopped by the site of the first ever Kyrie Irving Basketball Camp held at the Westlake Recreation Center yesterday, and found the camp to be well-attended despite the fact that Irving is yet to play a game for the hometown Cavs. I missed Media Day on the Saturday before as I tried to catch up with the jet-lag I came crashing down with on Friday night, after being out in Las Vegas during the Impact Games, but I did get the chance to briefly meet both Kyrie and his father Drederick on Sunday anyways.
The younger Irving came off real genuine when I introduced myself to him in the hallway, and even went so far as to give off the feeling that while he had no idea who I was, nor should he, he appreciated the fact that somebody - anybody really - said "it was great to have you in Cleveland." He also appeared even more genuine and cool, in my opinion, as I continued to watch him interact with the kids at his first annual camp from there.
While my exchange with Kyrie was brief, I did end up talking with his father Drederick for about 10 minutes. It only took about two minutes though, to see what a great influence Kyrie has in his corner as he makes his way into the NBA. In a League filled with entourages, yes-men, and paid handlers, it is Kyrie's father who's currently managing the day-to-day of his son's young career. He appears to be doing so with the best interests of his son as the foremost concern, and I can't help but think that will only pay dividends for both Kyrie as well as the Cavaliers moving forward. It was the older Irving who packed up the bag, most likely organized the trip, and keeps a close, watchful, and caring eye on every step his son makes torwards the beginning of his NBA career. An influence that is more important and valuable these days than most people realize.
Even though I didn't talk with Kyrie directly for an extended period of time yesterday, I did stick around long enough to watch him interact with his Northeast Ohio Campers. Those in attendance seemed to get their money's worth, and Irving was anything but standoff-ish in the time I was there. He was coaching and interacting with the kids in the championship game towards the end of the day, and was both open and direct with his answers during the Q & A that followed.
In addition to answering a question from a camper about his injured foot by saying, "my foot is fine," Kyrie also talked at length about the importance of working hard off the court.
He said that even though he "had a 3.7 GPA" coming out of High School, he made the decision to enroll in "SAT Classes to make sure he was able to get into Duke University." He also talked about how his father, who played for Mike Jarvis at Boston University and was named MVP of the Rucker League back in the day, is still requiring him to get his degree from Duke over the next few years in the off-season. This from a guy who'll be a millionaire twenty times over by the time his first NBA off-season comes calling.
Kyrie also told the kids that when he was a freshman in HS, the seniors on his team didn't like him. He said they hazed him, knocked his books out of his hands, and made it a rough year for him back when he was the same age as a lot of the kids sitting in the gym yesterday. He said that's all a part of growing up though, and I imagine a few kids in the audience could relate to what the number one pick overall was talking about there for sure.
He closed out the camp by thanking the campers "for making history" with him. He said it was his first of many camps to come in Northeast Ohio, and I hope he's right. I like having this Kyrie Irving guy around here already, and look forward to him taking the Association by storm whenever he's allowed too.
Photo: Stepien Rules
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