CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kyrie Irving zipped down the floor toward an empty frontcourt and fired a pass to a teammate for an easy basket.
Even during a simple drill with the reserves, the electrifying point guard again had Duke off and running.
Now the Blue Devils will find out how well he'll have them rolling in a game, and on college basketball's biggest stage, no less.
No. 1 seed Duke's NCAA Tournament opener against No. 16 seed Hampton today in the West Region will mark Irving's return to the court. The flashy freshman has been out since Dec. 4 with an injured big toe on his right foot, and coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to bring him off the bench and play him limited minutes.
"He hasn't played in a long, long time, but he's the type (of) player, you give him the ball, he's going to get out there and he'll help us if he gets on the court," guard Nolan Smith said. "He's that good a player."
With Irving's return, the reigning national champions are reintroducing an elite talent to a club that includes the most outstanding player of last year's Final Four, Kyle Singler, and Smith, the ACC player of the year.
"We want to play the way we've been playing and integrate him into what we're doing," Krzyzewski said.
Still, Duke clearly doesn't want to expect too much too soon, and Irving admits his current conditioning isn't where he wants it.
LOUISVILLE'S LEADER: Louisville was without its floor leader, guard Preston Knowles, for the last 8:51 of its 62-61 loss to Morehead State after he sprained a foot. Knowles, the team's captain and an All-Big East second-team selection, scored nine on 3-of-10 shooting from the field before being sidelined. "It was hard to play without him. He's been our leader the whole season," teammate Kyle Kuric said.
ARIZONA STAR HEALING: Arizona assists leader Kyle Fogg hopes to be healthy again for today's NCAA Tournament opener after being limited by a left quadriceps strain during the Pac-10 tournament. Fogg said he's "feeling really good right now" and "should be at 90 or 100 percent" when the fifth-seeded Wildcats play Memphis.
WRIGHT RETURN: Georgetown point guard Chris Wright, who watched the Hoyas' four-game skid from the bench because of a broken left hand, will play tonight in Chicago as the sixth-seeded Hoyas (21-10) play 11th-seeded VCU. "Having him back in our lineup is really good," leading scorer Austin Freeman said. "Just to have his ability to penetrate, get to the basket, create his own shot and also be able to create shots for his teammates."
CALL FOR REFORM: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is backing a call from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to toughen the academic requirements and revenue distribution system for postseason basketball. The commission believes only teams on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players should qualify for tournament play.
OBAMA BRACKET: President Barack Obama lost one of his round of 16 teams when Louisville lost to Morehead State. Obama correctly predicted another upset, tabbing 12th-seeded Richmond to topple fifth-seeded Vanderbilt.