PISCATAWAY, N.J. – As far as midseason acquisitions go, junior combo guard Kyrie Irving is about as a good as they come.
Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick, No. 4 in the RivalsHigh 100, is 6-0 since Irving debuted on Jan. 22 and may be as hot as any team in the nation.
One of those victories was a resounding 88-62 rout of then-No. 4 Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
"It feels great because we're coming out and we're just pressuring them full court," the 6-foot-2 Irving said after posting 21 points, four assists, three blocks, three steals and three rebounds against St. Benedict's. "This will put us in position to be No. 1 in the country. Our main goal, the top goal, is to be national champions and to win the [New Jersey Tournament of Champions]."
Irving sat out the state-mandated 30 days after transferring to St. Patrick from Montclair (N.J.) Kimberley Academy and had to watch in December as the Celtics lost to Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei in the final of the City of Palms Classic in Florida.
Many observers viewed the St. Patrick-St. Benedict's game as the unofficial "New Jersey state championship," and the fact that the Celtics crushed the Gray Bees behind the play of Irving and North Carolina-bound senior guard Dexter Strickland (21 points) only emboldened those who believe the Celtics are the prohibitive favorite to win their fifth Tournament of Champions title on March 23 at the Izod Center.
"What makes them so tough with [Irving], he shoots it and he's a smart, instinctive player," St. Benedict's coach Dan Hurley said. "He's not just a talented guy that doesn't think the game, which maybe you'd be able to take advantage of. With him, any defensive mistakes that we make he'll take advantage of. He brings a different element to the game, which maybe they didn't have last year.
"The guy's going to be a great player. It's not because he dominates the ball or is playing above the rim. It's because the kid plays both ends of the court. He's got great instincts. He doesn't take bad shots. He carries himself well with his teammates on the court."
St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle went even further in his praise of Irving.
"Kyrie Irving, when it's all said and done, he will arguably be as good as any guard who's played in New Jersey," Boyle said. "Any guard. Ever. Ever. DaJuan Wagner, Bobby Hurley, Shaheen Holloway. You're talking about a guy who's a great shooter, a great finisher. He's going to be as good as anybody who's played in New Jersey."
One Big East assistant said without pausing: "He's a pro."
Still, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said coaches and experts will need to watch more of Irving to get a full picture of how good he can be.
"A lot of scouts are looking forward to watching more of Irving since he got limited exposure this summer and has sat out most of this high school season," Meyer said. "There is no doubt he is a big-time player who is in the upper echelon of guards in the 2010 class. We have him as the No. 4-ranked point guard right now. When a coach with the clout of a Kevin Boyle feels that strongly about a player, you have to take that into consideration."
Irving (17.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg) showed a tremendous ability to draw contact while playing against 6-8 junior forward Tristan Thompson, who committed to Texas out of St. Benedict's. On one play, Irving drove at Thompson, drew the foul and created enough space to get a little hook shot off for two points.
"He shoots the ball so well and he's such a better prospect than a lot of other players that are close to him nationally because those guys don't shoot it that well," Boyle said. "He's got a little Chris Paul in him where he can get eight [points] and play great and be fine with that. Or if he's got four at halftime but we need him to get 25, he can get 25 in a flash."
Kyrie Irving, when it's all said and done, he will arguably be as good as any guard who's played in New Jersey. Any guard. Ever. Ever.
— Kevin Boyle, coach of Kyrie Irving on his potential greatness.
Despite all the praise, Irving doesn't appear to be too big for his britches. He said he learned from his father, Drederick Irving, who played under Rick Pitino at Boston University, to always remain humble.
"In my household my dad always told me to stay humble and that's the key to success," Irving said. "That's what I live by and that's what I'm going to follow because my dad was successful, and I just want to follow in his footsteps."
Irving rattled off a huge list of scholarships offers, including Villanova, Duke, Memphis, St. John's, Rutgers, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Providence, Florida and UConn.
"After this season, I'm going to narrow it down to a top 10," Irving said. "After AAU, I'm going to narrow it down to a top 5 and I'm going to take those visits."
He added that he dreams of one day playing in the NBA.
"I think if I keep on at the pace I'm going right now, I think I could see myself playing professionally because I do want to play professionally," he said. "That's my main goal."
Before attaining those goals, Irving and his team have their sights set on state and national championships.
Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep and Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei are currently first and second, respectively, in the RivalsHigh 100 and both are undefeated.
Yet Irving and St. Patrick will get a crack at a pair of elite teams this weekend when they face Lance Stephenson and Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln on Friday night in the Nike Super 6 at Fordham University and then meet No. 3 Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy on Saturday night in the Primetime Shootout in Trenton, N.J.
If the Celtics can beat Oak Hill and close out the season with no more losses, and if Mater Dei and Findlay Prep should fall along the way, Irving and St. Patrick could still celebrate a national championship.
"I feel we're obviously as good as anybody, if not the best team, when we have our whole team," Boyle said. "Dexter was injured early. When he was playing, he was rusty, and Kyrie wasn't there. Now you add two All-Americans … so there's no question we're right there with anybody."