Cavaliers draftee Collin Sexton: No pressure to fill Kyrie Irving's shoes

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Collin Sexton was handed a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform with his last name and the No. 2 stitched onto the back of it when the point guard out of Alabama arrived at his introductory news conference Friday.

Yet despite his shared position and jersey number, Sexton said he doesn't feel any pressure to fill the role Kyrie Irving once occupied.

"I feel like I'm not going to have to live up to anybody's shoes," said Sexton, selected with the No. 8 pick the Cavs acquired from the Boston Celtics when they traded Irving away last summer. "I'm going to come in and learn and be the best player I can be on the court as well as off the court."

In Irving's six years with the team, the point guard blossomed from the No. 1 pick into a perennial All-Star and NBA champion, hitting the biggest shot in franchise history with a go-ahead 3-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

Yet, by the time he requested a trade out of Cleveland, his relationships with his teammates and members of the coaching staff were strained.

The Cavs see Sexton as a player they can grow together with.

"When you got guys who work as hard as Collin does, to get to where he wants to get, those are the guys you want on your team and his toughness, his character, being a great student in the classroom -- all that exemplifies what we want to do here in Cleveland," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. "And I'm glad he's a part of it."

Sexton and Lue have a pre-existing relationship dating a few years back ever since Lue's personal chef, an Atlanta native and friend of the Sexton family, put Sexton's father in touch with the Cleveland coach to get advice on how to navigate his son's college recruiting process.

Sexton played at the University of Alabama for coach Avery Johnson, who happened to coach Lue late in his NBA career when he played for the Dallas Mavericks.

"Avery is great," Lue said. "He was the hardest on his point guards because he played the position, he won championships and he was tough on me."

As tough as he might have been on Sexton during his freshman season, Johnson had nothing but praise for the 19-year-old on a conference call with reporters on Friday morning, saying that he had the potential to be a perennial All-Star in the league -- an accomplishment that neither Johnson nor Lue ever reached in their combined 27 seasons in the NBA.

"The bigger the stage, the better," Johnson said of Sexton. "He's not afraid of the big stage, the lights. When you're playing against all of these elite point guards in the NBA, he's not going to ask anybody for their autographs, OK? He's going to show them a healthy dose of respect, but he's going to think he belongs on the floor. It's not fabricated. It's just who he is."

Lue said he plans to take a personal interest in Sexton's development through workouts with him and Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson in Las Vegas and Los Angeles this summer.

"I'm just excited, man," Lue said. "Just to be able to have a young talent that I can help mold and build and make better and teach him what suit to wear, what shoes to wear with a suit, how to tie a tie, when you go to dinner, things like that that Brian Shaw and Robert Horry and Ron Harper and those guys taught me [with the Los Angeles Lakers], so I'm very excited about that."

General manager Koby Altman said Sexton's presence, along with other young players such as Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic, represents a culture shift in Cleveland.

"Winning championships is still our goal and will always be our goal," Altman said. "But through that process we wanted to focus on long-term success, sustainability. Going through this year we were able to get younger and talented and athletic and have some real momentum going into the future. ... For the first time in a long time, we're going to be in the player-development business."

Sexton, whose nickname is "Young Bull," is known for being an explosive athlete -- he won the slam dunk contest at the McDonald's All American Game and high-jumped 6-foot-8 during high school track competition -- but is applying his cerebral side to try to improve his jump shot not only through repetitions but through film study.

"Watching how I was missing and which way the ball was rotating when it was coming off my fingers and stuff like that ... I feel like now I have corrected that," he said.

He says his favorite player is Kobe Bryant but believes his game most resembles John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and Russell Westbrook, with the former league MVP in Oklahoma City appealing to him because, "I just like the energy he plays with night in and night out. He doesn't take any plays off or any games off."

Sexton won't get much time off, either. He will begin workouts in Cleveland as soon as next week before competing with the Cavs' summer league team in Las Vegas the first week of July.

He burst onto the national scene in November when he scored 40 points against 14th-ranked Minnesota during a game in which Alabama played the last 10 minutes 3-on-5 because of a slew of ejections, an injury and another player fouling out.

"Growing up you'll have, like, AAU games where people will be running late or something, so that's when you need to do it," Sexton said with a smile. "Other than that, I never expected it."

One thing he does expect, however, is to compete in the NBA Finals, which he included in his very public recruiting pitch to LeBron James to return to Cleveland during the draft broadcast on ESPN.

He attended Game 4 of the 2018 Finals as a spectator, watching the Cavs lose the championship from the stands.

In the future, he intends to be on the court for it.

"Just the energy when I was sitting and watching the game, like the seats were shaking," Sexton said. "Fans were screaming. Just, I feel like I'll be ready to play in something like that when it's my time."