Because he was born in Australia, Kyrie Irving had a choice: to play for Team USA or to play for the Australian team in international play. Considering that the Americans are loaded with talent, Irving could have reasonably played for Australia without looking back.
But Irving chose to play for Team USA and now he is set to start in the Olympics at age 24. And he may have Duke and U.S. National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski to thank.
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Krzyzewski said that when Irving played for him at Duke, he told him that he believed he could one day start for Team USA.
Kyrie was born in Australia. [After he arrived at Duke] he was asked to play in Australia for an 18- or 19-and-under team, and he was asked to play for a U.S. team. Once you make a decision as to the country you play for, you can't change that five or six years later. I said, You'd be a great player for them. I [also] said, One day you could be the [U.S.] Olympic starting guard. I really believed it then.
When he accepted [an invitation to play for the Olympic team], I called him and said, Do you remember [our conversation]?
He said, Of course I do.
I said, Isn't it crazy that this is going to happen? And I love it 'cause I've known him since he was 17. To see him develop into really as good a guard as there is in the world, that's where he's at right now. . . . You know, if we win this thing, that will be a pretty darn good story.
Irving is certainly one of the NBA’s up and coming stars regardless of position and he’s set to play a big role in Rio. And yet this - the starting role, the chance to be a star alongside the world’s best - wasn’t a guarantee.
Irving and Coach K have a strong relationship, even if Krzyzewski cusses at Kyrie from time to time. It’s a relationship that certainly plays a part in Irving’s role with Team USA and on that was built at Duke even though Irving played 11 games there. That’s pretty neat.
Correction: A previous version of this post indicated that Kyrie Irving was 23. He is 24.