April 24, 2014

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Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving named All-Star starter, makes pool for U.S. team

 Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving

CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving was honored twice Thursday.

The Cavaliers point guard was officially announced as an Eastern Conference starter for the Feb. 16 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans.

Earlier in the day, the 21-year-old was among 28 players selected to be part of USA Basketball’s pool for international competition from 2014-16. That makes Irving eligible to play in the 2014 World Championships and, assuming the team qualifies, the 2016 Olympics.

“To have USA on your chest, it’s one of those lifetime goals as a kid that I want to accomplish,” Irving said.

The last Cleveland player to start in an All-Star Game was LeBron James in 2010. James also started from 2005-09 and was the game’s MVP in ’06 and ’08. The Cavs’ only other starter was Shawn Kemp in 1998.

Irving didn’t want to address being named an All-Star starter Thursday afternoon at Cleveland Clinic Courts because the final results of fan voting had not yet been released — he got 860,221 votes — but he was elated at the possibility of representing the United States in international competition.

“It’s such an honor to be in such a great pool of players,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going to camp and working hard with the team.

“I know everybody wants to be on that (Olympic) team,” he added. “I’m one of those guys who is going to work my tail off to get on that team and make it. It would be a great thing. Being around those great players, it will be a great learning experience.”

Cleveland coach Mike Brown agreed, saying the entire USA Basketball process, from practices to games, will also benefit Irving’s career with the Cavs.

“What a phenomenal experience to be a part of that,” Brown said. “Shoot, at his point in his career, you can’t ask for anything more than to be in that type of environment, around those type of guys. I’m extremely happy for him.”

The 6-foot-3, 191-pound Irving, who made the All-Star team last season as a reserve, is averaging 21.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists while shooting .430 from the field, .373 on 3-pointers and .833 at the line.

Irving’s rebounding average and field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages are career lows, but the fans made the third-year pro an overwhelming choice as a starter despite Cleveland’s disappointing 15-27 record.

“Thank you fans for voting me as an All-star starter,” Irving posted on his Twitter account. “Wouldn’t be there without you all!!”

Because fans were allowed to vote for three frontcourt players — instead of two forwards and a center — for the first time, the East’s starting lineup will feature three small forwards in Miami’s James, the leading vote-getter with 1.4 million, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Indiana’s Paul George. Irving and Miami shooting guard Dwyane Wade round out the East starters.

The West starters, as selected by the fans, are guards Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Steph Curry of Golden State, Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin and Minnesota forward Kevin Love. Bryant is injured and will be replaced in the starting lineup.

Other Cleveland All-Stars were John Johnson (1971-72), Butch Beard (’72), Lenny Wilkens (’73), Austin Carr (’74), Campy Russell (’79), Mike Mitchell (’81), Brad Daugherty (’88-89, ’91-93), Larry Nance (’89, ’93), Mark Price (’89, ’92-94), Tyrone Hill (’95), Terrell Brandon (’96-97), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (’2003, ’05) and Mo Williams (’09).

Wilkens (’89) and Brown (’09) served as head coach of the East team.

The remaining seven spots on each All-Star team will be voted on by the respective conference coaches and announced next Thursday. Cavs small forward Luol Deng has a shot at being selected, but coaches traditionally reward players from winning teams.

Tip-ins

Irving will become the fifth-youngest player to play in two All-Star Games (James, Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Isiah Thomas). Last year, he became the sixth-youngest player to appear in the game and finished with 15 points, three rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes.

* Irving, Curry and James are the only players in the league averaging at least 21.0 points and 6.0 assists. Irving is the second-highest scoring point guard in the league (Curry) and tops in the Eastern Conference. He is the reigning champ in the Three-Point Contest.

* Deng has been held out of contact portions of all Cavs practices since being acquired Jan. 6. Deng has had some stiffness in his Achilles’ tendon, but has started seven straight games since coming to Cleveland.

* Brown remained non-committal about sending No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett to the NBA Developmental League. Bennett has not played in the last five games. He last saw action Jan. 12 at Sacramento.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

TONIGHT

WHO: Cleveland vs. Milwaukee
TIME: 7:30
WHERE: The Q
TV/RADIO: FS Ohio; WEOL 930-AM (joined in progress), WTAM 1100-AM