Aussie-born, American-raised, Irving faces homeland in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Like so many kids, Kyrie Irving dreamed about putting on the uniform of his home country and playing in the Olympics.
For Australia, mate.
Born in Melbourne, where his father played professionally, the starting point guard for the heavily favored U.S. men's team was still considering the possibility of playing for the Aussies just a few years ago.
''I was very serious, man,'' he said.
But as fate would have it, Irving followed the advice of his college coach, the one who mentors him to this day and the one who once told him he could ''be the guard of your era'' and chose to play for the Americans.
''I'm glad that he decided to do that,'' said Mike Krzyzewski, the U.S. coach who had Irving for a short time at Duke.
Irving's surface roots Down Under will be just one of the subplots Wednesday when the U.S. team, which has barely broken a sweat during its first two games in Brazil, faces unbeaten Australia. The Aussies are the surprise squad of the Rio Games and are a group loaded with NBA talent, championship rings and big game-experience.
''They have great camaraderie and they're talented,'' Krzyzewski said. ''They're all NBA players so they understand what it is to play against our guys.''
Along with his unique connection to the Aussies, Irving will be going head-to-head with Matthew Dellavedova, his former teammate in Cleveland with whom he now shares a lifelong bond after they won a title together earlier this summer.
Cavaliers teammates for three seasons, they're friends turned foes for one day.
Irving expects the hard-nosed Dellavedova, a tenacious defender with a knack for getting under an opponent's skin, to come at him from the outset. He's ready.
''Just like I should be worried about him, he should be worried about me,'' Irving said Tuesday before practice. ''It goes both ways. He's a great defender as well, but my job is to win the basketball game for the U.S. and I'm going to do everything possible to do that. So when we step on the floor, there's no friendships. That goes out the window automatically.''
After he turned pro following an injury-shortened freshman year, Irving could have played for Australia, which has been competitive in the Olympics but has yet to win a medal in the games or FIBA championships. He understood it would be a long climb for him to be recognized as one of the top point guards in the U.S. with Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Deron Williams among those ahead of him in the deep American pool.
At Krzyzewski's urging, Irving had declined an invitation to play for Australia as a 17-year-old but was now giving it more consideration.
And that's when Krzyzewski swayed him to join Team USA.
''He had a choice,'' the coach said. ''I just wanted him to always think of the very best that could happen for him and obviously playing for the United States and maybe being the starting guard on the Olympic team, that's the highest. And he had the capability of doing that. I knew that at a young age.
''But it wasn't like you had to put any pressure on him. I think he just needed to know that once you make the decision, then that's the country you're going to play for.''
Irving has felt at home from the moment he first slipped on a USA jersey. He impressed coaches and players with his quickness and ball-handling during scrimmages for the U.S. Select Team against the team that went to London in 2012, and two years later was named tournament MVP while leading the Americans to gold at the Basketball World Cup.
If not for Krzyzewski, Irving could be wearing green and gold, not red, white and blue.
''He was a huge part of the decision,'' Irving said. ''I mean, he's Coach K. As a young fella, he definitely did tell me I had a chance to be a part of something bigger than myself and ultimately being the starting point guard on the U.S. Olympic team. I never thought it would happen as soon as it has.
''It's crazy to see how it has worked out.''
It's worked out to this point in these games for Australia, which has beaten medal contenders France and Serbia to open the tourney. The Aussies, who have five NBA starters and received a huge lift from center Andrew Bogut's quick recovery from a knee injury, have a chance to show they can stand with the world's basketball powers.
As for Irving, Dellavedova, who signed with Milwaukee earlier this summer, said he didn't have anything special planned for their reunion.
''I'll say, g'day,'' he said, ''But we'll probably catch up more when everything is finished.''