The Dagger - NCAAB

On the same day as rival North Carolina celebrated the return of two top underclassmen, Duke learned its best freshman is turning pro.

Point guard Kyrie Irving announced Wednesday that he will forgo his final three years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft, no surprise even though he only played 11 games this past season as a result of a toe injury. Irving averaged 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game this season, cementing himself as a near-certain lottery pick and potentially the No. 1 overall selection.

"This was a special year for me," Irving said in a statement released by the school. "I love everything about Duke and I'm going to miss it. Duke has a special place in my heart. Even though I'm leaving this year, Duke will always be in my mind and my heart. I'm going to miss putting on that No. 1 jersey."

The departure of Irving is damaging for a Duke program that also loses seniors Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler next season. How the Blue Devils recover will depend on whether their returning role players are capable of playing a larger role and whether their talented incoming freshmen can make an immediate impact.

Volume shooters Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins showed flashes of promise this season but will need to provide more consistent offense. Mason Plumlee has made strides as a rebounder, defender and transition scorer, but back-to-the-basket offense is still missing from his arsenal. And the freshman class is highlighted by McDonald's All-American Austin Rivers, who may be the best scoring guard in the Class of 2011.

Duke may miss Irving, but coach Mike Krzyzewski made it clear he supports the decision.

"We are totally supportive of Kyrie, his family and his decision," Krzyzewski said. "We look forward to continuing to work with him during the upcoming months leading to his entry into the NBA and afterwards while he is an NBA player.  He is a great young man, a terrific student, and a truly amazing representative for our program."

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