Pressure? 'Bring it on': Jon Scheyer plans to keep Duke in title form in post-Coach K era

·6 min read

Newly anointed Duke men's basketball coach Jon Scheyer said he could feel the difference in his roles barely 24 hours after the Blue Devils' season-ending loss to North Carolina in this year's Final Four.

Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski – the winningest coach in college basketball history – was freshly retired, and Scheyer's nameplate at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, now officially reads, "Head coach".

"It hit home so quickly, literally the next day for me right after the tournament," Scheyer told USA TODAY Sports. "Because you realize there's a difference between giving a suggestion and making a decision. I'd been suggesting for nine years, but now I think it's about making an informed decision and getting the right perspective. That's a huge shift.

"But even if I feel ready, there's no blueprint for this – following Coach K and building off the Duke legacy."

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NICE HAUL: Coach K credited with $13.7M in compensation for 2020 calendar year

Duke former coach Mike Krzyzewski and new head coach Jon Scheyer watch their team play against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Duke former coach Mike Krzyzewski and new head coach Jon Scheyer watch their team play against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

It's a legacy that Scheyer is taking on with insight from being Krzyzewski's top assistant over the years and the pedigree as an All-American player guiding the Blue Devils to the national title in 2010. Playing and coaching at Duke comes with towering expectations and pressure that Scheyer said he's embracing rather than shying away from – optimistic in keeping the program a perennial contender as the premier blue-blood of the sport.

"I know there will be external pressure," Scheyer said. "But I promise you, no one has more or higher expectations right now than I do for our program moving forward. And pressure comes with the territory here at Duke. I'm well aware that if something bad happens, we make a mistake, lose a game or struggle, then it becomes a bigger narrative about, 'told you, he wasn't the right guy' or this and that. Bring it on. I wouldn't have it any other way.

"I always dreamed about coaching at the highest level, ever since I had my little playbook when I was about 10 years old where I would draw rosters and schedules. So, for me to have this opportunity, it's something you dream about. It's not going to be perfect, but we're going to make Duke fans proud by putting our best foot forward every single day."

Aiding the takeover effort was a "succession plan" that Krzyzewski so often heralded throughout 2021-22. It saw Coach K announce his retirement last summer, allowing him to zero in on the team for his final season.

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"In Jon's case, he and I for this whole year, we’ve had a lot of different talks," Krzyzewski said of the final season with Scheyer as the coach-in-waiting. "He’s better prepared to be the head coach after going through this year. Everyone around him accepted him at a high level. It’ll be smooth.”

The "smooth" succession plan is already off to a strong start, as Scheyer hauled in a No. 1 recruiting class to build for the future.  The Blue Devils are the No. 1 team in USA TODAY Sports’ preseason top 25 for 2022-23 thanks to the arrival of five-stars Dereck Lively II, Dariq Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell.

"I can't explain the feeling of knowing you're going to take over a job 11 months from when you get the news," Scheyer said. "It's a great feeling because, in some ways, you can prepare. But in other ways, you have to really be in the moment and you can't get too far ahead. You don't fully know the situation of a roster or what our staff looks like (for 2022-23) because things can change dramatically. For me, when the season ended, that's when you have to make decisions quickly and methodically."

Duke coach Jon Scheyer has had a clipboard and notebook in his hand since he was 10 years old and dreaming of coaching big time.
Duke coach Jon Scheyer has had a clipboard and notebook in his hand since he was 10 years old and dreaming of coaching big time.

A plethora of those decisions are ones that Scheyer said his mentor wasn’t well positioned to offer wisdom on. Last year the NCAA changed its transfer policy, allowing players immediate eligibility for a free agency-type offseason in the sport. That came right as NIL opportunities became available for players to be paid for their likeness. It’s presenting unique leverage – and complexities – for a program like Duke where a recruited player can benefit his brand given the national exposure of playing at Cameron Indoor.

“It’s ironic because pretty quickly it occurred to me after I became the head coach to fulfill this role that in my first two weeks I’ve had to deal with things that Coach K never even had to think about in his 47 years of coaching," Scheyer said. "If that’s not signaling that we’re in a new era, I don’t know what is."

At 34, Scheyer will be one of the youngest coaches in all of college basketball. He sees that as a strength more than a weakness given the changing landscape.

"Things are drastically different than when I was a player. It's night and day," Scheyer said. "But it’s how it should be right now. NIL should be considered and part of the process because a player has the right to be paid. We want players to be best positioned to maximize their own brand, and Duke has the best and biggest stage to do that. We just believe that can’t replace the value of what I think Duke means being bigger than basketball.

Duke head coach Jon Scheyer takes over one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball.
Duke head coach Jon Scheyer takes over one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball.

“There are adjustments and challenges but we’re really embracing that. People are talking about it, wishing it was this and that. We see it as exciting here. We feel well positioned to move the program forward into the future.”

Part of moving the program forward means having the right supporting staff. Scheyer lost assistant Nolan Smith to Louisville but added key assistants to his bench, including former Elon head coach Mike Schrage, who brings decades of experience, and former Kentucky assistant Jai Lucas, one of the up-and-coming recruiters in the game.

"One thing I know is we're going to be prepared," Scheyer said. "I think you get scared or have fear when you're not prepared."

While Scheyer's confidence partially comes with preparation and having the backing of Krzyzewski – who he stays in close contact with – a main element to his belief in getting the job done at Duke comes from within.

"I know a lot of people who really hate to lose and love to win, but there's some type of extra edge I've had since I was a young kid when it comes to a competitiveness that I think becomes invaluable for a job like this," Scheyer said. "It's that I don't just love the end goal, I love the process. When adversity comes, I love being able to bounce back.

"Nothing's given to us because we're Duke. I think preparation, which starts right now, will put us in a position to have a successful season and set up the next chapter in a really good way."

Follow college basketball national reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jon Scheyer, Duke's new coach, embraces pressure after Coach K era

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