LOS ANGELES—After Kyrie Irving left Duke in spring 2011 following an 11-game freshman season cut short by a toe injury, the dynamic point guard said he hoped to get his degree in five years.
"I made a pact with my father where I have to get my degree within five years. That plan to get my degree is already in play," Irving told reporters at the 2011 NBA combine, a thought he reiterated to The Chronicle in August 2011. "That's a pact I made with him during my freshman year. He told me that if I was going to leave after one year, I was going to have to get my degree."
Since becoming the Blue Devils' third No. 1 overall draft pick ever and winning Rookie of the Year, however, Irving's plans have changed as the West Orange, N.J., native has become one of the NBA's biggest young stars.
More than five years later, with multiple summers lost because of a commitment to USA Basketball as a member of the Select Team that trained with the Olympic team in 2012 and as the FIBA World Cup MVP in 2014, Irving has had to put his plans of getting a Duke degree on hold.
"It hasn’t been going anywhere,” Irving said Sunday night of pursuing his degree after he helped Team USA to a 106-57 victory against China in a tune-up for the Olympics at the Staples Center. “Duke is a private school, so I can’t do any online classes. I would literally have to be on campus.”
Although Duke offers a limited number of online courses and has since 2012, it is unclear how much they would have helped the three-time NBA All-Star earn his degree. Irving told The Chronicle in August 2011 that he hoped to major in either sociology or psychology. Students in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences are typically required by the University to declare a major in the spring of their sophomore year.
Multiple players who left the Blue Devils' program early for the NBA have gone back to school, taking advantage of Duke's summer sessions on campus—likely the route Irving would have to take—to work toward their degree.
Philadelphia big man Jahlil Okafor was on campus earlier this summer for the first summer session, noting that he was happy to be back at the University after winning the 2015 national championship as a freshman during head coach Mike Krzyzewski's K Academy fantasy camp in May. Okafor also trained with Irving and the Olympic team as part of this year's Select Team.
Okafor's new teammate, guard Gerald Henderson, played at Duke from 2006 to 2009 before leaving after his junior season. The former Charlotte Hornet and Portland Trail Blazer went back to school in the summer before earning his degree from the University in 2014 and going through commencement in May 2015 with Quinn Cook.
But former basketball stars are not the only ones who have returned to campus.
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman returned to campus last year to recover from a torn ACL and finish his degree in the summer. Like Henderson, Stroman left school after his junior season. The right-handed starter went through commencement in May and currently has an 8-4 record this season.
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Fresh off winning the 2016 NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving said he hopes to finish his NBA career before worrying about his degree. The 24-year old just completed his fifth NBA season and hopes to win his first Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in the coming weeks.
“[I want] to do what I can in the league, make sure I leave a legacy in the NBA and then when I leave the game of basketball, then I’ll focus on the next step of my life,” Irving said.
Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.