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January 19, 2009

Kyrie Irving ready to return after wait period

MORE: RivalsHigh100 Hoops Rankings | Top 150 prospects for 2009

NEW YORK − After sitting out the first part of the high school basketball season, Kyrie Irving is ready to make his debut Thursday with St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J., which is ranked No. 6 in the RivalsHigh 100.

"I want to fit in with the chemistry at St. Patrick's," Irving said last week at Madison Square Garden, where he watched No. 4 UConn beat St. John's 67-55. "That's the most important thing. Just come in and make a contribution right away."

Irving, a talented 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior point guard, sat out the state-mandated 30 days after transferring from The Montclair (N.J.) Kimberley Academy. Last year he led MKA to its first New Jersey Prep 'B' state title, averaging 26.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 3.6 steals. Irving scored 48 points in one game and 47 in another, the two highest totals in New Jersey last season. He is ranked the No. 4 point guard and the No. 27 player overall in the 2010 class by Rivals.com.

This season he's had to sit and watch as the Celtics reached the final of the City of Palms Classic in Florida − losing to Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei − and then win the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina with a victory over Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler.

"It's been really frustrating," Irving said. "But also it's a learning experience. It helped me grow as a person and a player, just getting close with my teammates and cheer for my teammates."

When Irving returns, he'll team with North Carolina-bound guard Dexter Strickland to form arguably the top backcourt in New Jersey. The Celtics are the favorites to win the New Jersey Tournament of Champions. Between St. Anthony (10 titles) and St. Patrick (four), the two powerhouses have won the event 14 of 20 times.

"I think we can be the best in the country because we're both top players and we both make others around us better," Irving said. "I'm close with Dexter and we talk all the time and we just want to win a national championship together."

Irving said his first practice at St. Patrick was a rude awakening after his time at MKA. Now he will join a team that also includes George Mason-bound forward Paris Bennett and sophomore forward Michael Gilchrist, considered by some a potential future pro.

"It's a big transition," Irving said. "The style of play is different and how hard everybody plays. The first time I went to St. Patrick, practice was just grueling. But 'KB' [coach Kevin Boyle] only wants the best for everybody."

Boyle said he believes Irving's upside is tremendous, and he will make an immediate impact when he suits up. "A lot of people just haven't seen enough of Kyrie," Boyle told Jerry Meyer of Rivals.com. "Once they do, people will be arguing whether he is the best player in Jersey or if it is Dominic Cheek, Dexter Strickland or Mike Gilchrist. If you put 20 people in a room after watching these four players play and asked them who was the best player, Kyrie would get his share of votes.

"If he does what I think he can do in the next year and a half, he has a chance to be up there with any of the guards who have played here or at St. Anthony's."

As far as colleges, Irving says he's open at this point.

"I don't really have any favorites right now," he said. "I'm just going with the flow, just talking to college coaches and getting a feel for every head coach."

Memphis assistant Rod Strickland, the former New York Knicks point guard, is a close family friend. In fact, Irving calls him an "uncle." Memphis is one of many schools that have offered Irving a scholarship.

"He doesn't really have that much to do with it," Irving said. "If my uncle wasn't there, I'd still be interested in Memphis."

When Irving visited Memphis, he was the guest of Jeff Robinson, the former St. Patrick star who recently transferred to Seton Hall.

"When I went out to Memphis, he showed me around," Irving said. "Memphis is great. But when I go to visit Seton Hall, I think he's going to be taking me around also."

Irving visited the St. John's-UConn game as a guest of St. John's.

"I'm getting to know the coaches and feeling them out, and getting to know all the players," he said.

Other schools that have offered or are involved include Duke, Kansas, Indiana, Villanova, Rutgers, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

The Rutgers coaches are also in his ear, and have made him a priority for 2010.

"Behind closed doors they tell me they want a point guard who can come in and make an impact right away," Irving said.

Still, Irving said he had no favorites at this point.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "[I just want] a home away from home."

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