What Is vs What Might Have Been

Have you missed another 30 win season by focusing on what might have been? Justin McTeer reviews the season as played by the Duke Fan Base.

Let's be honest—this season has been all about Kyrie Irving for us Duke fans.

We watched his recruitment like a falcon looking for prey (sorry for the reference). We heard the reports of him being the next Jason Williams or John Wall. We saw him play in the McDonald's All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic, and the Team USA games. We liked what we saw.

Prior to the season, Irving and his potential was an obsession for all of us. For a lot of Duke fans, the excitement about Irving dwarfed our excitement for seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler being back for another year.

The beginning of the season didn't reduce our Irving fever (which I've been is more damaging to a Duke fans ability to enjoy life than Bieber fever is to the ability of a 13-year-old boy to snag a girlfriend). In fact, the first eight games of the year simply amplified our enthusiasm.

We watched as Irving seemingly teleported from one end of the court to another. He single-handedly destroyed Kansas State and Michigan State and pretty much anyone he played. Irving was the best freshman player we had seen at Duke in a long time (maybe ever), and we could do nothing but dream of him breaking the ankles of our rivals' guards.

Then it happened. We don't need to talk about it—that's been done to death.

Since it happened, that cruel hand dealt by basketball fate, we've had to endure three months and 26 games without Irving. It feels like it's been a lifetime.

Even without him on the court, this season has never once stopped being all about Irving to us, especially with all of the speculation about whether or not he would return.

We've heard he was done for the season with his good toe already in the NBA. People have said he was done for the season but planning on returning for another year. We've heard he would be back for the second game against North Carolina or the ACC tournament or the NCAA tournament. There was even talk he was healthy enough to play but his father wouldn't let him for fear of hurting his draft stock.

Indeed, we've done loop-de-loops galore on the speculation roller coaster. Some of us haven't even gotten off the ride yet.

While we've waited for his return, this season has been the year of "what could have been" for a lot of us. If we lost a game, we couldn't help but focus on how we surely would have won with Irving. If we beat a team by 12 points, we could only think on how we would have blown them out with Irving. Even our best games felt a little empty just knowing that Irving could have been out there.

Unfortunately, in the midst of our obsession with what could have been, many of us have missed out on what has been an incredible season.

Sure, after winning the ACC tournament with an undeniable beat down of North Carolina (there's beating a team, and then there's a beat down...that was a beat down) and going into the NCAA tournament with a No. 1 seed and an incredible 30-4 record, we can all look back and see that this has been a great year. Hindsight is 20/20 after all.

But that doesn't change the fact that a lot of us (myself included) didn't enjoy the journey much despite there being only four bumps in the road.

As we've focused on what we didn't have, we may have missed out on fully enjoying what we did have.

We had a senior Singler who gave up a lot of money to come back and lead his team once again. He may not have played up to all of the expectations placed upon him this season (he did make the first team All-ACC list), but he has done nothing but build on his already impressive legacy.

While so much of the attention was on Irving's status, Singler quietly ascended the list of all-time ACC scoring leaders. He is currently eighth all time with an off chance of passing Christian Laettner if Duke goes far in the tournament. Singler has done all of that while playing iron man minutes throughout his career, never taking a play off and setting a standard for toughness and hustle game in and game out.

We had a senior Smith who stepped up in the wake of Irving's injury like few players in the nation could have done. Last year, he was one of the most improved players in the country. This season, he has been one of the best.

While averaging an incredible 21.3 points and 5.2 assists per game, Smith made the choice for ACC Player of the Year about as easy as it could have been for those who vote on that kind of thing. He's a shoe in for every first team All-American list, and he's a strong candidate for National Player of the Year. Would that have even happened had Irving not been injured?

Before Irving was injured, Seth Curry had all but disappeared from Duke's rotation. It looked as if we were going to have to wait another season to see if he could live up to the family name.

But in the absence of Irving, Curry stepped up as well. Though his increased level of play wasn't as immediate as Smith's, it was just as obvious as the season wore on. Curry slowly matured into Duke's third consistent scoring option. He put up double figures in Duke's previous five games, and he averaged almost 18 points in his three games against North Carolina.

Personally, I spent the better part of the season focusing on what was missing from Duke's team instead of enjoying the immense success the players were earning on the court.

Thanks to those players, Duke won it's third straight ACC championship. The Blue Devils reached their third straight year with a 30-win season, and they are once again a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with as good a chance to cut down the nets as anyone.

Ironically, just when I'm at a point where I feel like I can fully appreciate this Duke team with or without Irving, it looks like he's as likely to return as he's ever been.

But no matter whether he steps foot on the court or not, we should all enjoy every last moment of this season for what it is—a bunch of talented ball players proudly representing the school we all root so passionately for.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see Irving's name on the back of a Duke jersey one more time (make that six), but I'm going to focus on the four letters on the front of the jerseys a little more than I have before, regardless of whose name is on the back.

As Duke fans, we've had a great season. We may not have enjoyed the ride as much as we could have. Things didn't go quite as planned. But our boys kept the season on track when a lot of teams would have seen the wheels come off.

As fans, there is a lot we can learn from this season. This may just be a sport, but life lessons abound. Enjoying what we have instead of what we don't—that's one lesson I'm thankful to have learned from our Blue Devils this season.


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