Freshman Perfection

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Kyrie Irving was labeled a “can’t miss” rookie when he was taken atop last June’s NBA Draft. And on Friday night – matched up against fellow freshman and some sophomores – he really couldn’t miss.

OK, he missed one shot – as did his Cavalier teammate, Tristan Thompson. But when it was all said and done, Cleveland’s precocious point guard still went 12-for-13 from the floor, including a jaw-dropping 8-of-8 from 3-point range, netting a game-high 34 points and running away with MVP honors in the inaugural BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at Amway Arena in Orlando.

Thompson, the No. 4 pick in 2011, came off the bench for Team Shaq and was just as effective – albeit from closer range – going 10-for-11 from the floor to lead his squad with 20 points, dunking home everything he got his hands on.

By the time both first-year phenoms were finished, Irving’s Team Chuck had won the actual game, 146-133.

Irving, as he usually does, took a measured approach at the outset – first attempting to get his teammates involved. But with just over three minutes remaining in the first half, he and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker began a long-distance duel heading into intermission. Irving got the best of it – canning three straight bombs – and scored 11 of his squad’s 17 points before the half.


L.A.’s Blake Griffin got the crowd warmed up to start the second stanza, then Kyrie went back to work – splashing home two more trifectas and hitting a pair of free throws.

“I was trying to get assists, but once I got going, I was locked in,” said Irving, who actually did dish out a team-high nine assists. “It felt good.”

While the Cavs point guard was doing his work, Tristan Thompson was keeping Team Shaq in the game. The former Longhorn didn’t miss his first shot until 1:48 remained in regulation – and he quickly made amends for the single misfire, crushing home his team’s final four points of the ballgame.

“I think I only missed one shot, (it was) all dunks,” smiled Thompson after the affair. “If the season was like that, it’d be pretty funny. But it was great, I just dunked the ball. It’s an All-Star game and you have to enjoy yourself.”

As impressive as Irving’s three-point performance was, he still didn’t top teammate Daniel Gibson’s 11 treys from the 2008 Rookie-Sophomore Game in New Orleans. But he did score 34 points to Gibson’s 33 and he was perfect from beyond the arc, while Boobie went 11-for-20 in the Big Easy. Kevin Durant holds the scoring record with 45 points.

Irving admitted that he's never been that hot.

"It's never occurred in my career," said Irving, adding, "It's kind of unfortunate that this came in an All-Star game and these stats don't carry over into the season."

On Friday night, every member of Team Shaq tallied double-digits except for the game's big attraction, Jeremy Lin, who scored just two points. Despite the pre-game buzz, the crowd got a bigger kick out of his parents on Kiss-Cam, texting on their phones and refusing to kiss despite their pleas. Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in this past Draft, also netted just two points.

Former Buckeye Evan Turner flirted with a triple-double and former CSU Viking Norris Cole finished with 18 points.

After the game, Kyrie gave Cavs owner Dan Gilbert a big hug and afterward posed backstage with his MVP trophy – making sure to include photos with his father, his friends and even Cavaliers PR.

“(Three-point shooting) is what I practice every single day,” said the former Blue Devil. “I work on my three-point shooting every practice – off-days and everything. I’m still working on my shooting, trying to get where it’s near perfect.”

On Friday night in Orlando, practice made perfect.