Friedlander: Successful debut signals smooth transition for Jon Scheyer, Duke basketball
DURHAM, N.C. – Nothing seemed out of place at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday.
The 5 national championship banners still hung proudly from the rafters. The Crazies who filled the seats closest to the court were, well, crazy.
There was even a kid from the Chicago area on the bench leading the Blue Devils to a victory. The only real difference was this kid really is a kid, comparatively speaking. And that for the first time in 43 years, it wasn’t Mike Krzyzewski.
Even with a full year to prepare for the transition, it still was a bit surreal for everyone involved. Including Krzyzewski’s successor Jon Scheyer.
“For myself, I just took a moment before going out there,” the 35-year-old former Duke point guard said after his 1st career victory – a 71-44 rout of Jacksonville. “What an opportunity. What a moment. This is a place I’ve grown up playing and coaching. To be here as head coach, I was not going to be anywhere other than this moment right now.
“Hopefully I can do that going forward, through the ups and the downs. But for me tonight, that was my main focus.”
Scheyer has been associated with the Duke program for most of his basketball life.
He started as a player, winning a 2010 national championship with the Blue Devils before joining Krzyzewski’s staff in 2014. For the past 4 years, he has served as the program’s top assistant and lead recruiter.
He has jogged out of the tunnel at Cameron Indoor Stadium so many times, he can find his way to the Duke bench with his eyes closed.
The first walk out of the tunnel as the head coach of @DukeMBB❕
Welcome to the Scheyer era 😈 pic.twitter.com/SudNE3uQoc
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) November 8, 2022
Although he freely admitted to having a case of the butterflies as he counted down the hours and minutes before tipoff Monday, the muscle memory kicked in once referee Jenna Reneau tossed the ball into the air to start the season.
It didn’t hurt that Scheyer has done this before.
He was called on to pinch hit for Krzyzewski 3 times over the past 2 seasons. He didn’t hit a home run every time, but he did get the Blue Devils home safely every time.
On Jan. 6, 2021 – a date remembered for things other than basketball – he led Duke to an 83-82 win against Boston College while Coach K was in COVID-19 quarantine. Last Jan. 12 at Wake Forest, with Krzyzewski ailing, he sat 1st chair for a 76-74 win before taking over at halftime of a 76-64 victory Feb. 15 in the rematch with the Deacons.
Scheyer also had the benefit of a dry run last week in an exhibition against Fayetteville State.
“Those at-bats have helped me a lot,” he said, continuing with the baseball metaphor. “Just to get a feel for the beginning all the way to the end of a game, different situations, close games, adversity. We have to be prepared for it all. But there’s no question that really helped me prepare for this moment.”
Still, there’s nothing like the real thing. And it didn’t take long for things to get ready for Scheyer.
Less than 4 minutes into Monday’s game, point guard Jeremy Roach was called for a foul when Jacksonville’s Kevion Nolan initiated contact on the way up for a jumper.
It happened right in front of the Duke bench, so when the players came off the court for the 1st TV timeout, Scheyer went right to official Bill Covington to inform him of his displeasure.
The exchange produced the 1st tangible difference between the newly minted Scheyer era and the one that preceded it. The Blue Devils were called for 3 more fouls than the Dolphins by the midway point in the opening half.
It’s going to take some time before Scheyer earns even close to the same kind of respect from the officials Krzyzewski did. He might consider breaking out some of those distinctive “Scheyer face” expressions he made famous as a player to increase his intimidation factor.
When it comes to respect, the new coach doesn’t have to worry about winning over his fans or players. Let by returners Roach and Jaylen Blakes, Scheyer’s players celebrated their coach’s successful debut by dousing him with water when he returned to the locker room from his postgame TV interview.
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) November 8, 2022
“I didn’t talk to them about it being my 1st (game) or anything like that,” Scheyer said. “That meant a lot, how they responded.”
The honeymoon eventually will be tested. Duke’s upcoming schedule includes tests against Kansas, Ohio State and Iowa before the start of ACC play and there’s bound to be some adversity.
And perhaps a loss or 2.
But if Monday’s 1st impression is any indication, the Blue Devils still are in good hands. Or as former Virginia coach and television analyst Pete Gillen once put it:
“Duke is Duke.”