Oh how differently it could’ve gone.
Irving was 17 and mulling over an invitation to play for Australia – the country in which he was born and spent the first two years of his life – on its under-18 team. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, in the middle of a Team USA tenure that has resurrected America’s supremacy in the game, then told the youngster he needed to think bigger.
“It was very serious,” Irving said of how close he came to playing for Australia, which would’ve later made him ineligible to play for the nation where he grew up. “It was a legit thing, until Coach K intervened. He strong-armed me. As a young fella, he did tell me I had a chance to be a part of something bigger than myself. He said, ‘You could be the starting point guard on the U.S. Olympic team.’ I never thought it would happen as soon as it has, but I had aspirations and dreams of being a guard on an Olympic team.”
Irving was born in Australia while his dad played professional basketball there, and he holds dual citizenship. It would’ve been reasonable to pick Australia, because there was no guarantee Irving would develop into a player worthy of making the superior Team USA.
In hindsight, Irving would’ve just upgraded the Australians’ strongest position. They already have Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills at point guard. The Americans have a bigger relative need at point guard with Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and John Wall skipping the Rio Olympics.
Good thing for Team USA that Irving and Krzyzewski share such a strong bond.