No. 1 PG / No. 2 Overall Player in 2010
Notes: Irving's career was cut tragically short in early December of 2010 in a game with Butler. Up until that point the freshman had been nothing short of spectacular and had just come off of National Player of the Week honors after torching Michigan State for 31 points in ESPN's game of the week. He had also been named ACC rookie of the week three times.
At the time of the injury, Irving was the nation's top freshman scorer with 17.4 points a game and was in the top 10 in six ACC statistical categories (scoring, assists, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, steals and assist-to-turnover ratio).
In short, Kyrie Irving was a superstar. And the nation knew it. Not only was he terrific against the Spartans in Cameron, he absolutely destroyed preseason All-American Jacob Pullen as then No. 1 Duke easily beat No. 4 Kansas State in Kansas City.
Irving did eventually return to play for Duke in the NCAA Tournament, but took a few games to catch his rhythm before erupting against Arizona for 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Unfortunately, Irving's return seemed to stifle Duke's offensive flow and the team flamed out in the game against the Wildcats, losing by 16.
A few weeks later, Irving declared for the NBA Draft, was take No. 1 overall and won the 2012 Rookie of the Year award.
Career Stats: Appeared in 11 games with 8 starts…played 27.5 minutes per game and averaged 17.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game…shot 52.9 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from the perimeter, and 90.1 percent from the free throw line for his career.
No. 7 PF / No. 33 Overall Player in 2010
Notes: Hairston was recruited with the idea of becoming a similar player to Lance Thomas. He entered Duke as a 6-foot-8, 215 pound top 35 player in the class of 2010 who was described as a player who excelled in the midrange game and possessed a nice face-up jumper. Hairston himself seemed to agree with that, telling TDD:
"I'm a big man who doesn't need to stay in the post the whole game, I can work with a pick and roll, and with having Kyrie and Tyler, they like to push the ball. I'm more than willing to run the floor, get the rebound, get the ball to a guard, post up, or give you a drop step or a jump hook."
His game, however, never transitioned as well as he would have hoped. Hairston ended up finding his way onto the floor in the most moreso than on the wing. He played his last two seasons at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, and provided depth for the Blue Devils inside behind players such as the Plumlee brothers, Ryan Kelly, Jabari Parker, and Amile Jefferson.
As a senior Hairston enjoyed his best stretch of games from late November through mid-December, averaging 21 minutes per night against Alabama, Michigan, Arizona, and Gardner Webb. After the calendar hit 2014, however, he recorded double figure minutes twice over the rest of the year while logging five "DNP-Coach's Decision"'s.
Career Stats: Appeared in 121 games with 17 starts…played 9.4 minutes per game and averaged 2.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.2 assists, and 0.1 steals per game…shot 44.1 percent from the field, and 64.4 percent from the free throw line for his career.
No. 23 PG / > Top 100
Notes: Thornton was the forgotten point guard early his freshman season, which was understandable with the presence of Irving and ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith on the roster. However, after Irving was sidelined, Thornton started to earn minutes slowly and developed the reputation as a solid defender. He played in all 34 games that season and started three. As a sophomore, Thornton had one of the more memorable sequences in Duke history against Kansas in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. In that contest he knocked down a three to give Duke the lead before icing the game with a desperation jumper from the corner (see below):
In addition to breaking Jayhawk hearts, Thornton started 19 times as a sophomore. He added another six starts as a junior on Duke's Elite Eight team and was one of 10 finalists for the Sports Illustrated College Athlete of the Year.
As a senior Thornton was named a captain and provided a steady hand as a starter and off the bench. Following Duke's season ending loss, Coach K noted that while Thornton was as talented as teammates Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, he simply "gets it". He was the team's best communicator and was often the heart and soul of a group that often seemed to struggle to bring intensity and togetherness on the court.
Career Stats: Appeared in 139 games with 53 starts…played 18.6 minutes per game and averaged 3.1 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.0 steals per game…shot 40.6 percent from the field, 38.5 percent from the perimeter, and 77.7 percent from the free throw line for his career.
OVERALL CLASS PERFORMANCE:
The class of 2010 was robbed of its best player who played just 11 games for Duke. After Irving left Duke got more than it bargained for from Thornton who was a reliable starter and first bench option at point guard for three and a half seasons. Hairston, as a top 35 recruit and former Parade All-American never panned out relative to his lofty ranking. He provided solid role player minutes throughout his four seasons.
In two of the four years the class of 2010 played at Duke, the Blue Devils had a chance to make the Final Four. For eight games in 2010, Duke was unquestionably the best team in the country. Then Irving got injured. Neither Thornton nor Hairston factored in that season. The second chance to win was a season ago when the now departed senior class (recruiting class of 2009) got Duke into the Elite 8 against Louisville. That class, like 2010, had to battle unexpected injury when Kelly broke his foot.
The other two seasons were lost campaigns that ended with first round losses. As sophomores Thornton played a backup role to converted SG Seth Curry and Austin Rivers, while Hairston occasionally scratched the box score behind the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly. As seniors, the duo attempted to fill the role of captains, but the team was fatally flawed and never developed or seemed to, as Coach K said in the post-season press conference, "figure it out".
Irving will ultimately go down as the one of the best players to come out of the class of 2010 when looking at professional and likely international success. On the collegiate level, the former Duke player pales in comparison to the body of work of the best player to ever come out of Ames, Iowa.
While Duke and every other high major was visiting the state to watch Harrison Barnes, it was Barnes' teammate, Doug McDermott who finished his career as one of the more productive college players ever. Duke, of course, never offered or showed interest to the former three-star player, and pursued Barnes heavily. Barnes finished that season ranked ahead of Irving and played two seasons at North Carolina (posting a 2-3 record against Duke).
It's impossible to speculate how good the class of 2010 would have been had Irving stayed healthy, not to mention had Duke landed Barnes.
Following the Blue Devils' 2010 National Title, Duke was looking at a starting line up of Mason Plumlee, Kyle Singler, Harrison Barnes, Nolan Smith, and Kyrie Irving. The reserves would have been Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Miles Plumlee.
Without Barnes and Irving, Duke still won 32 games and spent a fair amount of time ranked No. 1 in the country. Adding those two to that roster would have, on paper, produced one of Duke's top five teams of all-time.
The class of 2010 will be remembered more for what could have been instead of what was. Irving was a star who will likely play more games for Coach K in a Team USA uniform than he did in a Duke jersey. Thornton was the ultimate glue guy and scrappy player off the bench who over performed relative to his ranking and routinely earned minutes off of more naturally gifted players for four years. Hairston was a role player whose game didn't translate.
Following their freshman season, "the trio" became a duo of role players whose success was largely predicated on teammates who were the focus of that particular roster.