NBA champ Kyrie Irving goes for gold in Rio

LAS VEGAS -- Kyrie Irving says Mike Krzyzewski calls him "the one that got away" because Irving's career at Duke lasted just 11 games in his freshman season before he declared for the NBA draft.

This summer, Irving is making up for lost time, committing to play for Krzyzewski and USA Basketball despite coming off an intense calendar year that started with a six-month rehab after knee surgery and ended with the longest NBA season imaginable, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers win the championship in a seven-game Finals.

"Part of me would have wanted to probably think about rest and think about what's going on, but I can rest in training camp or getting ready for the season," Irving told ESPN.com this week at Team USA training camp in Las Vegas in preparation for next month's Rio Olympics.

"I know the team will understand and I'll be at my best no matter what. I mean, this is [Krzyzewski's] last hurrah, so it's an emotional thing and this will be our cemented championship if we come home with a gold. We got one in the world championship [in 2014], and now I want to win a gold with him, and I'm the one that got away from him. So, I'm glad that we can do this."

"A lot of people are smart after the game or when the game stops; he's smart while the game is going on at a high level. And the really good ones are like that." Coach K on Kyrie Irving's basketball IQ

USA Basketball's fascination with Irving predates his time with the Blue Devils. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse's head coach and a U.S. assistant, remembers watching Irving play in high school and considering him one of the two best high school guards he has ever seen, along with Isiah Thomas. "Every time he played," Boeheim said of Irving, "he put on a show."

Krzyzewski won the recruiting battle for the ballhandling wizard out of New Jersey, edging schools like Texas, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia Tech and Seton Hall. A right toe injury cut short Irving's lone college season, but the Cavs drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011 anyway. Now the three-time All-Star has become the player that Coach K envisioned.

"In high school, I thought he would be great," Krzyzewski said. "He's better. And the thing about him is, he's still getting better. And he's smart.

"He's smart people-wise and he's smart game-wise. But he's smart game-wise not when the game stops. A lot of people are smart after the game or when the game stops; he's smart while the game is going on at a high level. And the really good ones are like that. And that's what I've learned. LeBron [James] is like that. Kobe [Bryant] is like that. Chris Paul, Carmelo [Anthony] is like that. Steph [Curry] is like that."

It's heady company for Irving. Three of the names Krzyzewski mentioned were league MVPs, another is considered the best point guard of his generation and the other one of the best pure scorers to lace them up. Krzyzewski is pushing Irving, who is wearing his idol Bryant's No. 10 for the Olympics, to continue his rise.

"I think a player has a dog's life in their career ... 13, 15 [years]," Krzyzewski said. "Hopefully that long. So when you feel that momentum going where you're getting better, I'm not sure you want to stop.

"I know he wants to play for the U.S., wants to win a gold medal. I think down the list, he wants to play for me. I'm not saying way down the list. But the primary thing, Kyrie wants to be a great player, and this gives him an opportunity to play with different people. It brings out different qualities of him ... leadership. And our guys usually become better in this. They usually have really good years [coming off USA Basketball], and then he can rest after. He'll still have about six weeks before the season. So, I'm proud of him."

Still just 24 years old, Irving is the second-youngest player on USA's 12-man roster this summer, born a couple of months before Harrison Barnes.

"I'm definitely one of the leaders of the team, and it's crazy because I'm still one of the youngest on this team, our Olympic team," Irving said. "It's crazy to think that a lot of things that I've been dreaming of as a kid are coming a lot quicker than I anticipated. But it's been five years since I got drafted from Duke, and I'm just happy for the opportunities that are in front of me."

Irving will try to add an Olympic gold medal to the FIBA World Cup gold he won in Madrid when he was named MVP of the tournament. He'll try to add another championship with the Cavs next season, of course, but that's not on his mind at the moment.

"I haven't thought about it," Irving said. "I haven't thought about a repeat yet. I'll think about it when it comes to October."

Being around the Warriors' Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all summer could speed that thought process, but Irving's answer is in line with his mantra of staying in the moment. It's the same reason he had little interest in reliving the Cavs' epic Finals win over Golden State -- including his clinching 3-pointer over Curry in Game 7 -- when asked about it this week.

"I don't really have time to really sit there and realize the accomplishment of 'The Shot,'" he said. "I know it was a very big shot and the magnitude of it was huge. But ... I wouldn't be me if I didn't continue to strive to think about the next thing that I have to accomplish and I want to accomplish, whether that be team- or personal-wise.

"So, it was a big shot, I'm very ecstatic we won the championship and I'm glad that shot happened in Golden State. It was a very big team, morale win for us. On the road in the NBA Finals, I mean, I've been waiting for that type of moment. And I remember a person asked me, they were like, 'Are you ready for Game 7?' And I told everybody, I'm ready to relish in that moment. I want it, I'm ready to be in it, I'm ready to live in it and I meant that."

As far as the Cavs go, Irving said he was "confident" the team would re-sign J.R. Smith and "excited" about the offseason additions of Chris Andersen and Mike Dunleavy. "I think he'll enjoy it a lot better than anyone else," Irving said of Dunleavy, another former Duke star, "because he'll be getting standstill jump shots with us driving it."

Yet in conversation, Irving had an easier time looking decades ahead than he did to next season.

"I know that we're engraved in history, in Cleveland sports history, forever," Irving said. "That team, we'll be coming back 40 years from now and we'll be old as heck and waving to the crowd like the Miracle at Richfield team [of 1975-76] that came back. I shook every single one of their hands. That will be us. That will be us talking about our championship team and waving to the crowd and stuff like that.

"I'm appreciative of it. I wish I could share a lot of my emotions of how I really felt about it, because it meant a great deal to myself and my family and as well as to the city of Cleveland. I'm just truly thankful to be in this position and now I get to go for a gold medal."