When Mike Krzyzewski walked off the court in New Orleans for the final time, no one was thinking about Jon Scheyer. Not even Scheyer himself. It was not the way he wanted to be handed the reins of the program from his mentor.
But as he sat down to face the media for the first time as the head coach at Duke? Not the soon-to-be, not the succeeding head coach, but the current head coach? He scanned the room as he sat, folding his hands and flashing a friendly smile.
When asked when it started to sink in for him that he was the head coach, he grinned. “Right now,” he said, pausing as the room erupted into laughter.
But it felt strangely true for Scheyer, the 34-year-old who’s now the caretaker of one of the most precious commodities in college basketball.
“I think there’s just an extra layer of responsibility that you feel. For me, overall it’s exciting but also it’s getting everything structured the right way,” Scheyer said. “We have our entire infrastructure coming back. I’m lucky that we have that. We already have that in place. I guess the problem is that we have to reshape it where on this day of college basketball, we’re in the best position to move forward. I think you’re juggling that, but for me, I felt pretty quickly, ‘The next game, you’re going to be coaching, so you better be ready.'”
Once it was over? Hubert Davis, North Carolina’s own promising assistant turned new head coach, was the hot name. Krzyzewski was gone. And while Scheyer had the top recruiting class in the country coming in, he was going to have to fill holes on his coaching staff and fill it out just the way he wanted it. Staff, he knew, would be important.
Scheyer wanted to build a staff that was as versatile as he is, which is no easy feat.
When he was hired as an assistant for Krzyzewski, it was easy to see why. As a player, he knew the game as well as anyone to play at Duke, which is no small feat. I have played multiple positions, and did it well. And his size meant he was constantly underestimated.
He was a great leader, sure. But would all of that translate? Would I recruit?
The answer to that was quickly determined to be yes, and that momentum has continued.
And he’s gotten good enough at it that he was even able to add an assistant coach from Duke’s chief rival on the recruiting trail — Jai Lucas from Kentucky. Scheyer got to know the 33-year-old on the recruiting trail, and the two got close in a hurry. “First of all, his experience at 33 that he’s had in the game of basketball and as a coach — it’s incredible what he’s done. High-level schools at Texas and Kentucky. He’s been ops. He’s been an assistant coach. He’s worked on offense. He’s worked on defense. He’s been a great recruiter. He checks all the boxes.”
Before adding Lucas, Scheyer’s staff consisted of Amile Jefferson (elevated from within), Chris Carrawell and Mike Schrage, who decided to give up a job as head coach at Elon to be an assistant for Scheyer. Schrage spent a long time at Duke prior to that. So basically, Scheyer was going to have a staff consisting entirely of Duke guys. In nabbing Lucas, Scheyer not only gets one of the best recruiters in the country — he also gets an outside perspective.
“I’m very fortunate to have Chris [Carrawell] and Amile [Jefferson]. …. They know me. Mike [Schrage], the same thing. But getting a different perspective, I think, is really important,” Scheyer said. “Other people do great things too, and so for Jai, that adds an incredible amount of value.”
Lucas, for his part, was flattered.
“The outside perspective is something that’s never happened, so you didn’t think it was going to happen. I think it’s a testament to Coach Scheyer and what he’s trying to do and where he’s trying to grow the program,” Lucas said. “It just shows that he’s in the right seat and the right situation to do it because he’s trying to find a way to continue to advance Duke to be more.
“It’s already been built on a great foundation by Coach K and he’s trying to find a way to make it his own and take it to the next step. I think that just goes to show how serious he is about the job and how committed he is.” is to the University and to the program.When he was willing to do that, it made even more sense because he’s thinking the right way and he’s not afraid of rocking the boat a little bit to go with his vision and what he sees.”
Jefferson and Carrawell were always going to stay with Scheyer. If Nolan Smith had heard from any other school but Louisville about an assistant coaching job, he would have stayed as well. But the new additions in Schrage and Lucas had to be deliberate ones.
The Schrage addition raised eyebrows when it was announced, in part because people don’t often give up head coaching jobs for assistant coaching jobs.
Yes, Schrage has love for Duke, and Duke basketball. He’s worked at Duke in almost every imaginable role: academics, game operations, video, assistant coach. Yes, Schrage loves Mike Krzyzewski. But he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t believe in Jon Scheyer.
“This was a tough decision for me. A lot of people have asked, but I made it because I love Duke. My nine years with (Krzyzewski), meeting guys like Jon Scheyer and Chris Carawell, and my belief in this guy, Jon Scheyer — I couldn’t believe in him more,” Schrage said.
“I loved being a head coach. I loved Elon, we had a healthy program and had our best group coming back, but it’s just hard to say no. A lot of people said, ‘You can do this later.’ No, I don’t think you can do this later. There’s only one window of opportunity to do this with a guy you really believe in at a place that you love and is so special to you.”
Schrage is the only assistant on Scheyer’s staff with head coaching experience, and that fills an important role as well as Scheyer will be doing it for the first time at a very high level.
“He’s a sincere, genuine guy, but he’s a competitor. So, as we continue to build this program, nothing is going to be perfect, so just embrace that. Delegating is doing as long as you’re doing something else. I think that’s really important,” Schrage said. “He’s a worker — obviously he’s become the head coach now, but he’s got understanding. That’s why he’s hired the staff that he has because he can trust them. Just balancing your schedule and how you process things is so important because the reality is he’s done so much with this program as a player and assistant coach, it is different now as the head coach.”
In some ways, Scheyer’s challenges in Year 1 will be familiar. A brand-new roster, essentially, but one made up of talented freshmen recruits that most programs would love to have one of, much less multiple. Uncertainty looming, although not as much as usual as Trevor Keels is the only undecided player left in the NBA Draft pool. And in a macro sense, college basketball seemingly spinning wildly out of control with Name, Image and Likeness and the transfer portal.
“Not only is it a new era of Duke basketball, but it’s really a new era of college basketball,” Scheyer said. “We’ve really had a chance to think about the different systems and processes that we go through and analyzed, is this what’s best for college basketball in this day and age? We have a great challenge ahead, but I think it’s really exciting. “
Scheyer knows that money talks when it comes to NIL deals. But he also knows that what Duke has to offer has value as well, and he’s not that concerned about losing players because of it.
“The biggest thing, there’s no bigger stage than Duke basketball. There just isn’t. And so for our incoming freshmen that are on their way here in a month or six weeks, the opportunity to do it on this stage, you can’ don’t simulate that,” Scheyer said. “Now we do need to continue to put our players in a position to profit off of that (Name, Image and Likeness) and when they earn what their value is. But that stage, there’s no simulation for it.”
Nothing about what Scheyer is about to do will be easy.
But Scheyer is used to that.
And while he’s not one of those people that talks about being doubted, he knows that he is. He knows that he has been. He knows people look at him and think he seems friendly. And he is. Unless you’re competing against him.
It was a given that we’d get Scheyer, the x-and-o coach and Scheyer, the recruiter. But Carrawell says look out for Scheyer, the competitor.
“This coaching isn’t just about X’s and O’s. You can have the best plays, but you have to get guys to buy in. One thing he’s going to have is guys buying in,” Carrawell said. “This dude is a competitive man. He’s competitive as hell. Don’t be fooled. He wants to win more than anybody on our staff.
“Don’t let the baby face fool you. He can be mean. He has that competitive fire that you have to have as a head coach. So besides the X’s and O’s, he wants to win. I can get down with a guy that wants to win.”
And the feeling, for Scheyer, is very much mutual.
“(The staff are) team players. They’re about Duke winning. I think a lot of times, you can get with staffs where they’re prideful — all of us are prideful, but it’s about Duke winning. They’re great people and close friends of mine,” Scheyer said. “I think that’s the first thing when I was making the decision to choose where I wanted to play as a high school recruit, that’s what my mom and dad cared about — is my son going to be surrounded by good men and by good people? I can say with complete certainty, any one of those guys I would trust my son with. That’s a great reflection on who they are.
:Then just their feel for the game. It’s a high-level staff. They really have had different experiences. The basketball piece takes care of itself. For me, it starts with all of them, who they are as people. I feel very fortunate and grateful to have put together this staff and for us to work together to take this next step.”