Duke basketball has become a self-sustaining organism over the past quarter-century. Coach Mike Krzyzewski invites players into the program, grooms them into the sort of basketball minds he'd like to work with, then hires the best, usually the ones who don't embark on lengthy professional careers.
Names like Johnny Dawkins, Quin Snyder, Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski have parlayed time on both Coach K's roster and staff into Division I head coaching positions. New Blue Devil assistant coach Jon Scheyer could one day be poised to add himself to that list.
“It is such an honor to be back at Duke as an assistant coach,” Scheyer said in Duke's press release. “To think that I have not only had the opportunity to play here but also come back to be a coach and help the guys go through the same process I went through is an honor for me and I am excited."
Scheyer was promoted from special assistant after Wojciechowski left for the head coaching position at Marquette. At 26 years of age, Scheyer seems young to be one of the suited leaders of men congregated on the sideline, but he's actually two years older than Wojo was when he was named to the staff.
Duke's coaching staff hasn't seen a ton of turnover during the past 15 years, with both Wojciechowski and Collins being ever-present since 2000. Now that Scheyer's on board, what does he bring to the program that a more veteran coach would lack?
Act Like You've Been There Before
Since Scheyer helped lead the Blue Devils to the 2010 NCAA championship, Duke has sent 11 players to the NBA, including presumptive 2014 picks Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Three players—Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Parker—were one-and-done performers.
The three stars were very good college players and all are expected to become great pros, but none could help Duke live up to its usual standards on the game's biggest stage. Irving was part of a Sweet 16 run, but Rivers and Parker bowed out meekly against Lehigh and Mercer, respectively.
McDonald's All-Americans will continue flocking to Duke as long as Coach K is in charge, and many of them hope to become NBA lottery picks after one season. As if they can't get enough perspective on Duke-level expectations from Krzyzewski, they now have an authority figure closer to their own age who can flash some championship bling.
Fellow assistant Nate James has a national title ring from 2001, but current recruits were just entering kindergarten back then. Scheyer's hardware will have a lot more shine on it for the millennial talents who'll be entering college during his tenure.
“He keeps us a little bit more current,” Krzyzewski said of Scheyer to Steve Wiseman of The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.). “He’s a young guy. We think he’s done a great job with our recruiting."
Scheyer acknowledges that his age helps him in his dealings with players. "It was great learning (coaching) at a young age, for me," he said in an interview with GoDuke.com. "I feel like I can relate to guys."
Dawkins didn't win a title. Neither did Snyder. Wojo and Collins only won titles as assistants. Scheyer was not only part of a title team, but he was a player who scored five of Duke's final 10 points in the championship win over Butler.
He's been where players claim they want to be, getting the big shots in the big moments of the big game. That experience will be invaluable every March.
All In For the Team
Scheyer can also personally relate to putting one's ego aside for the needs of the team. Still one of the top scorers in Duke history, he switched to point guard when no other options were available. For the sacrifice, he won that national title and All-American honors, setting the ACC single-season record with 1,470 minutes played.
Players struggling to adapt to a new role can get advice from Scheyer. Freshmen hitting the wall can get a motivational speech from a guy who put in nearly 37 minutes per game.
Fighting through on-court disappointments? Scheyer's been there, too.
The 2007 NCAA tournament was another one-game cameo for the Blue Devils, as the No. 6 seed was bounced by VCU. Scheyer took an elbow to the eye in the closing minutes, an injury that required stitches to close.
"It was like kicking me when I was down," Scheyer told GoDuke.com.
In comparing that game to the Mercer loss, he said, "As a coach you feel a lot of hurt and all those things, but you feel for the guys, you feel for the guys too. I don’t want the guys to go through what I went through my first year, two years actually. I want them to feel what I felt as a senior."
Last season, guard Rasheed Sulaimon experienced his share of disappointments, including a DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coach's Decision) in December. When he roused himself from his early-season slump with a solid all-around game against UCLA, Scheyer was the second coach to embrace him in the locker room, according to NBC Sports' Rob Dauster.
Sulaimon saw himself moving into different roles—including occasional point guard—as the season wore on, and he sounds like he's ready to embrace the Scheyer doctrine in his junior year. "I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from last year, so anything for the team to win, I'm all for," Sulaimon told the Fayetteville Observer's Bret Strelow.
Scheyer saw it all in his four years. Sulaimon, like all of his teammates, would like to use that experience to put Duke back at its accustomed place atop the game.
After being a model of stability for so long, the Duke coaching staff is in a very noticeable state of transition. Coach K, for his part, is welcoming the "new energy" that Scheyer is bringing to the staff (h/t USA Today).
"I think a program needs that every once in a while," Krzyzewski told The Associated Press.
The Duke program, now a full recruiting cycle removed from that last national title, has come in for a thorough evaluation.
"What we've done is kind of look over our whole program and see where we are at this time, every part of our program, to see where we can improve," Coach K told the AP. "We see improvements coming, and there's still a lot of work to do."
Scheyer was no stranger to hard work as a player, and he's got the credentials to demonstrate what's possible if his new charges put in the kind of time he did.
The GoDuke.com interviewer suggested that even a special assistant with a national championship ring had a special kind of credibility. Scheyer laughed and said, "Counts for something."