At some point, however, the uniform came off. The night melted away. And Irving and the Blue Devils had to move on. For Duke it means finding a way to rebuild a team that will lose two senior leaders - both First Team All-Conference players. But Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have provided Duke fans with an amazing 158 game career in which the Blue Devils won 135 times. It is safe to say their work is done. Their legacy is complete.
Irving, through no fault of his own, has been on the court in a Duke uniform 11 times.
Unlike Smith and Singler, however, Irving is faced with the prospect of being a top five NBA Draft pick in June. Something that very few players have the opportunity to consider and even fewer consider turning down. The last Blue Devil to have such a decision was Jason Williams, who turned down the chance to be a drafted as high in hopes of coming back to help Duke to back to back titles in 2002.
When asked if his latest New Jersey point guard could follow the lead of Williams, Krzyzewski was quick to strike down any talk of the decision.
"Let's not talk about that," Krzyzewski said. "I mean, that's uncalled for right now. Let's just talk about the game and the beautiful way that Arizona played and not future decisions. You think I just grabbed him and talked to him about that? I just hugged him because he's crying. I'm not talking to him about him going pro. Those things will happen in due course."
For his part, Irving was quick to display the knack for deflecting direct questions and saying the right things to the media.
"Right now I'm thinking about next year. There's no guarantee I'll be back. I'm going to sit down with my family and the coaching staff after the NCAA Tournament and we'll go from there."
It's the correct and savvy answer. It's also one college hoops fans at large hear from top prospects all the time. There was really no way for Irving not to paint himself into a corner last night. If he answered that he was definitely coming back, and then changed his mind it would tarnish a glowing reputation. If he said he was definitely leaving it would, likely, have taken the spotlight away from his team's loss and the end of two brilliant careers. Not to mention the great game played by Arizona.
So he deflected. Leaving Duke fans hoping for a return, but expecting a departure. The evidence of such departure may be circumstantial, but it's also mounting.
The Blue Devils jumped in late with and were able to land five star point guard Quinn Cook. They recruited Myck Kabongo ever so briefly. Duke already has Tyler Thornton on the roster. With Irving's return, it is unlikely that either Cook or Thornton would earn substantial minutes in a loaded backcourt that would also include Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, and Michael Gbinije. That's six true guards and seven when Gbinije is in the backcourt.
But not if Irving leaves.
Duke is also recruiting DeAndre Daniels, the best remaining player in the class of 2011 and a true small forward prospect. There is room to accept a commitment from Daniels, but it would bring the used scholarship count to 12 rotational players. An unheard of number in this day and age. This season, one in which the Blue Devils were supposed to have tremendous depth, featured 10 rotational players receiving scholarships.
Certainly an argument could be made for Cook to redshirt to have a full year or rehab on his injured knee. And there's the possibility that such a crowded roster would result in a player or two seriously contemplating a transfer. But the more likely scenario is for Irving to do exactly what the Duke coaching staff has expected for nearly a year. In fact it's what Cook said the major pitch was when the Blue Devils began recruiting him last summer.
"Coach K gave me a call and we talked about the situation," Cook said in mid July, 2010. "Coach feels as though Kyrie could potentially leave early because he is that good. So we're in the process of establishing a relationship."
Irving certainly is that good. Even if it was for only 30 percent of one season. It was probably long enough.
The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the Draft is April 24th.