Mar 12, 2012, 8:14 PM EST
When the season began there were plenty of comparisons made (insane ones) between Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers. To be fair, there was a certain amount that warranted a look: they both chose Duke, they both were consensus top-3 recruits, and they both were tremendously talented combo guards. Beyond that? Not so much.
Kyrie Irving began his career with a 17 point, 9 assist game against Princeton. It was immediately clear that he was ready to be a star at the college level. His game was polished. The understanding was there. In game 7 he dropped 31 points and 6 boards on Michigan State and the visions of grandeur began. He was the next big thing. He was the first Kyrie Irving.
Then he got hurt. After a few months of Toe Watch he returned just in time for the NCAA Tourney only to have his team dumped by Arizona in the Sweet 16. That was that. He left and became the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Austin Rivers, meanwhile, had 5 turnovers in his debut. And two games later in his first stiff challenge (against Michigan State) he had 5 points on 1-7 shooting.
The narrative was that he was no Kyrie Irving. Of course the people pushing this narrative were the same people that annointed him in the first place. So it goes.
The good news (for Duke fans) is that Austin didn’t get hurt. And as the season progressed so did his game. He would never again repeat his 5 turnover performance. His defense improved notably. And he ended up as Coach K’s go-to player. Rivers played more minutes than any other Blue Devil, and when he was on the floor he took over 25% of their shots. When Duke possessions went stagnant they’d give the ball to Austin, provide him with a screen, and let him do work. Starting in mid-January he had a six-game stretch where he averaged 16 a game against conference foes.
And then came Carolina. With one shot (capping a 29 point performance), Austin arrived.
Now Duke is in the Tournament as a 2-seed. And it’s clear from recent games that this team is going to succeed or fail due largely to what Rivers accomplishes on the court. He’s the man. He has the ball. Coach K wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on him if he didn’t think he was ready.
Now, with four wins, he can make Duke fans forget any of them ever compared him to Kyrie Irving.
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