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Scott Howard-Cooper

Kyrie Irving, John Wall
Kyrie Irving (left) and last year's No. 1 pick, John Wall, pose for photos at the Draft lottery earlier this month.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

A needy Cleveland and the No. 1 pick await Duke's Irving

Posted May 24 2011 2:34PM

He is, by all early indications, polished and mature and a leader, given to a lot of yes-sir, no-sir answers and speaking of a pact made with his father to finish his Duke education within five years. Kyrie Irving will make a very good first impression wherever his pro career starts the night of June 23.

Except that he is likely headed to the Cavaliers as the No. 1 pick, and a good first impression doesn't begin to cover it. Not in that locker room in that city in this moment.

Irving will be popular before his plane touches down for the meet-and-greet on the 24th in a way no other market will embrace a draftee. Jimmer Fredette going from BYU to the Jazz at No. 12 would be a Utah adrenaline rush. Nolan Smith following his late father into the NBA, possibly as a first-round pick, will be a heartwarming tale.

Irving arriving in Cleveland will be different than anything because LeBron James leaving Cleveland about 11 months earlier in a classless, heartless manner was different. The two moments will now be unavoidably connected, the knee to the midsection giving way to a chance at new love.

Irving gets it.

"I definitely think about filling a void," he said. "But the most important thing is I just want to contribute as best I can, just go there as best prepared as I can be. That's all I'm worried about right now."

He is 19 years old and hiding from nothing. Getting a lot of questions about stepping into a vacuum left by a superstar veteran who grew up 40 miles away is no fair way to begin a career. Yet, here he is.

"He'll do great," said Smith, a member of the same Duke backcourt last season. "He has a great personality. He's a fun guy. For us, he was a great teammate. When he got hurt (with a toe injury) and he was out all year long, he was the best cheerleader for us, and that's just his personality. When he goes to a team where the city is going to embrace him, he's going to be a great role model for the kids."

Cleveland is so anxious to love again that it will not matter that James has been an informal Irving advisor for years, through high school and the start of the Duke career to talking every week as Irving missed three months of his one college season because of an injured big toe to the draft process. "He's definitely filled like a big-brother role in my life," the young point guard noted. "That relationship is special to me."

(Pausing to wait for Cavs fans to get off the floor.)

(And maybe receive CPR.)

It's not like that, though. To hear him talk, it doesn't feel like Irving is following James' lead. It doesn't even seem awkward, or cruelly ironic, that the big-brother role in his life belongs to the very person who put his hand on the heart of the sporting city and yanked.

"No, sir," Irving said. "That situation isn't weird for me. I'm not in Cleveland yet. Cleveland hasn't drafted me yet. 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 team wants to draft me. That's all I'm concerned about."

True, Cleveland's pick could end up being Arizona small forward Derrick Williams, and that would really be a move to the next generation, with Williams a position replacement for James. But whoever it is, Cleveland fans will immediately look to him to fill that void, to lead the long climb back.

Kyrie Irving is ready for the call.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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