In his first high school basketball game, as a freshman on the Montclair Kimberley Academy’s varsity, Kyrie Irving scored seven points in a 66-53 loss to Newark Academy, MKA’s archrival and my alma mater. Irving was a precocious rookie — he was the primary focus of the scouting report, even as a newcomer — but on the court, the youngster was quiet and unassuming. The result wasn’t much better in the season opener his sophomore year, when he scored 22 points in a 70-39 road loss, this time at my high school.
After the game, my friend walked over to me in the bleachers, where I had enjoyed the win, and he made a prediction that seemed equally bold and strange. The lopsided final still lit up the scoreboard, lingering to rub it in.
“Irving is so nasty,” he said before anything else. “He’s going to go to, like, Memphis in three years.”
“Come on,” I laughed. “He’s a good point guard for a bad prep school, and you just beat him by 30.”
“Trust me,” he said. “He’s the best player we’ve ever played against.”
My friend wasn’t one for compliments. To him, an opposing player was either “nasty” or he was “garbage,” and most were the latter. So the unusually glowing endorsement stuck with me, and I made it a point to watch out for Irving’s name the rest of the season. Most of the time, it wasn’t hard to find. About two months later, Irving dropped 47 points against a top-20 team in Montclair, and more impressive, he led his hapless squad to a victory. At the time, he was averaging almost 27 points per game, which included a 48-point outburst and a 35-point effort in another loss to my high school.
“So you guys held up Irving, huh?” I said to the same friend after the game.
“What are you talking about?”
“He only scored 35.”
“Dude,” he said, “we double- and triple-teamed him the whole game.”
It reminded me of another conversation I had with him before Irving’s sophomore year, when his points parties had started to leak past the boundaries of prep schools and hardcore basketball nuts.
“What percent of their points do you think Irving will get this year?” I asked. “Fifty?”
“Easy,” he said.
Oh. Well then, it wasn’t such a surprise that Irving transferred at the end of his sophomore year to St. Patrick’s, the so-called Evil Empire of New Jersey high school hoops. We had discussed it as a possibility for a few months, and the shock of the news was quickly replaced by speculation about his potential. St. Patrick’s is a veritable powerhouse — always in contention for national championships, let alone state titles, and a breeding ground for Division-I guards.
Would Irving thrive, we wondered, in a system where he wasn’t the only option? And really, was he that good? Yes, it turned out. He was.
In February of Irving’s junior year — after he scored 21 points to help his new team rout the No. 3 team in the country — St. Patrick’s head coach, Kevin Boyle, confirmed our suspicions. “When it’s all said and done,” he said, “he will be arguably as good as any guard who’s played in New Jersey. Any guard. Ever. Ever.” DaJuan Wagner lit it up in New Jersey gyms. So, too, did Bobby Hurley and Jay Williams, the point guards of the only three national championship teams in Duke history.
Now, Irving’s part of that pedigree. He’s no longer a high school freshman psyched about playing in a rivalry game on a Friday night in front of about 200 fans. At Duke, where 9,314 pack Cameron Indoor Stadium for even the most meaningless exhibition, Irving won’t look much like the kid who never beat my alma mater, either. He’s got a prophecy to fulfill, and if he ever forgets, all he has to do is look up at the rafters for a reminder.
There, hanging high and proud, are two numbers and three banners, getting lonelier every April. They’re pleading for company.