Friedlander: Jon Scheyer brings new swag to Duke basketball
DURHAM, NC — Jon Scheyer has been around the Duke basketball program as a player and coach since 2006, so he’s familiar with the way things are done.
And because he has first-hand knowledge of what the program has done, he’s smart enough not to make any major changes now that he’s taken over from his mentor Mike Krzyzewski.
That doesn’t mean everything is going to stay the same.
It only took assistant coach Chris Carrawell, himself a former Blue Devils player, 1 preseason practice to notice at least 1 big difference.
“Jon has done a really good job of mixing it up, throwing some different things in there. Some flavor, some swag,” Carrawell said Tuesday. “Coach (K) is too old to have swag.”
Other than the swag and most of the players on the roster, the most noticeable change in the Blue Devils’ preseason preparation is the absence of that familiar nasally twang calling out instructions.
It’s been replaced by a younger, more energetic voice that has brought an element of fun to the practice floor.
That doesn’t mean the workouts are any less intense.
You wouldn’t expect anything different from a former point guard whose toughness and grit helped Duke to a national championship in 2010 and whose “Scheyer face” expressions helped spawn an internet meme before they were actually called memes.
As far as junior point guard Jeremy Roach is concerned, Monday’s opening practice was just as crisp and organized as always, with a competitiveness that rivaled that of a regular-season game.
“Coach Scheyer has played with Coach K and he’s coached with him, too, so they kind of embody the same culture,” said Roach, the only returning regular from last year’s Final Four team. “It’s the same hard-nosed culture, coming to every practice 110%, bringing energy.
“They’ve got two different styles to get guys to be the best they can. I love Scheyer, the way he’s coaching now. He just lets guys be themselves and instills a lot of confidence in (them).”
That confidence is a direct extension of the self-assurance with which Scheyer carries himself.
He is only 35, getting ready to start his first year as a head coach in charge of a program that has been the gold standard of college basketball over the past four decades. But if he’s feeling any of the inevitable pressure that comes with succeeding the winningest coach the game has ever known, he’s doing a good job of hiding it.
Chances are it’s not false bravado.
Krzyzewski was famous for encouraging his assistants to think like head coaches as a way of preparing them to take over programs of their own. He took special care in grooming Scheyer, knowing that the team he’d ultimately inherit was his own.
That includes announcing his impending retirement prior to his final season, a decision that allowed his successor to gain valuable experience as a coach in waiting.
“For me, it’s really helped to anticipate what’s to come,” Scheyer said. “Things come at you quick and the year helped me really understand at a deeper level who I am.
“You have to be clear about what you expect and who you are, and stay true to that even when you’re not doing well. I think that’s the biggest thing the year allowed me to do – stay true to who I am in what I’m looking for and then to follow that up with action.”
Clearly, Scheyer is determined to be his own man rather than a Krzyzewski clone. But he also understands that it would be a serious mistake not to seek out and heed the counsel of a mentor with 1,202 career victories and 5 national championships to his credit.
To that end, the two talk regularly.
Some lessons, however, can only be learned from experience. Among them is dealing with the constant demands on his time.
“I feel a little bit more popular,” he said.
That popularity will undoubtedly be tested the first time his Blue Devils lose a game or if they happen to make an early exit from the NCAA Tournament come March.
But that would come with the territory no matter who got the job. Even Coach K went through some early growing pains.
As unreasonable and unfair as it is, Scheyer’s success will, at least early on, be judged to a standard that will be virtually impossible to reach.
But at least he knows what he’s getting into. And he’s not afraid of the challenge.