Why Jon Scheyer will always have a certain mystique in my household
ORLANDO — In December 2005, I was a sophomore in high school living in Buffalo Grove, which is a Northwest suburb of Chicago. At an age when nothing seems impressive, I remember seeing a headline in the local Daily Herald newspaper that stopped me in my tracks.
“Jon Scheyer’s 21 points in final 75 seconds not enough to save Glenbrook North vs. Proviso West”
Wait … he did WHAT?!?
With Jon Scheyer in the news, let’s all remember the time he scored 21 points in 75 seconds. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/8AlhQXfzGI
— Kendall Baker (@kendallbaker) June 2, 2021
The vast majority of high school basketball players will never hit 21 points in a game (he finished with 52 points that night). Even 21 points in a quarter would’ve made the 15-year-old version of myself let out an uncontrollable yelp sitting at the kitchen table. “Could I even do that in an empty gym?” I thought to myself. “How could he possibly score 21 points in the final minute and 15 seconds and LOSE?” I wondered.
Fast forward roughly 17 years to this Wednesday. I, no longer a 15-year-old skeptic of the world, am a paid journalist (if you can believe it). Scheyer, no longer a 5-star mega recruit known as “Jewish Jordan” as he was by some in the Chicagoland area, is leading Duke into the NCAA Tournament in his first year as a head coach replacing Mike Krzyzewski. As fate would have it, Duke’s opening round site was Orlando, which is where I now call home.
Naturally, I had to ask Scheyer about that night in which his Chicago-area legend took on new life.
“I remember being a kid in the suburbs of Chicago and not believing the headline of ’21 points in 75 seconds … ‘”
Scheyer let out a laugh. It’s not the first time (or the last) that he’s been asked about that. But instead of rolling his eyes in an “aw shucks” manner, he waited for me to spit out the rest of the question before turning the tables on me.
Scheyer: “What suburb. I’m just curious?”
Me: “Buffalo Grove.”
Scheyer: “Oh, OK. We played them a couple times.”
Me: “My brother guarded you, actually.”
Scheyer: “We won, I know that. I don’t know how he did against me.”
Connor: “Yeah, he remembers. I think you dropped 30 on him.”
Scheyer: “Alright, just so that he remembers that we won.”
Yeah. My brother, who was an All-Area player in his own right, definitely remembered guarding Scheyer in the second round of the Illinois High School State Playoffs … en route to Scheyer’s Glenbrook North winning a state title.
After this interaction, my brother reminded me that there was actually a play in that game in which he shoved Scheyer out of bounds and forced a turnover that he somehow didn’t yield a foul call. That type of treatment wasn’t out of the ordinary for the 6-5, but rail-thin Scheyer. The only question about his game was always going to be whether he’d be strong enough to handle the physicality at a place like Duke.
To be clear, that was more of a question for the local folk who consumed all things Duke compared to those who watched him blossom into a rare Chicago suburbs phenomenon.
When my brother and I were in middle school playing feeder basketball, we were told after one of his games that we had to make our way to the 8th grade gym on the other side of the school to see this “Jon Scheyer” kid play. Whatever “standing room only” can be to watch some 8th graders, well, let’s just say fire codes weren’t being abided by that night.
If I recall, Scheyer had 31 points in the first half that night.
That’s with 6-minute quarters. Scheyer was unstoppable. As the tallest player on the court, he got whatever shot he wanted, but it wasn’t like he was just the kid who hit puberty first who was bodying smaller kids in the paint. Scheyer’s skill level as a shooter knew no limits, and even in the rare instance that his team lost, he did things that were hard to conceive.
Oh, that’s right. I almost forgot. What did Scheyer remember from 21 points in 75 seconds?
“It’s crazy. I remember losing, actually,” Scheyer said 17 years later. “That was one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever been a part of because we had won 35 straight going into that game — 24 the year before and we were 11-0 that year — and we were down by 13. I just wanted to win the game, and we cut it to 2 three times in that final minute. I remember fouling out and just crying. After the game, nobody wanted to be around me because I was so upset we lost. That’s what it’s always been about for me.
“I was surprised the next day, the news about it. If you were to tell me that day that I’d still be asked about it 17 years later, I would’ve been pretty surprised about it then. But hopefully it just shows the will that I have to win and have always had. That’s what it’s always been about for me.”
No doubt about that. It’s why Scheyer’s first Duke team has been able to win 10 consecutive games and is in position to clinch a Sweet 16 berth if it can beat battle-tested Tennessee on Saturday. They totally bought into Duke’s defense-first philosophy, which Scheyer has continued seamlessly. Listen to him talk about Dereck Lively’s defensive impact and you’d have no idea that Scheyer ranks No. 10 on Duke’s all-time leading scorers’ list.
If you ask Duke players, many of whom were toddlers for Scheyer’s career, you can tell that their head coach isn’t a big “back in my day” guy. I asked Dariq Whitehead if he had ever heard about just how good Scheyer was as a player, and if he had ever seen his legendary “21 points in 75 seconds” feat.
“He hasn’t spoke to us much about it. He doesn’t tend to speak to us a lot about what he’s done in the past,” Whitehead said. “We know a little bit, but I’m not sure about that.”
(I told him the 21 points in 75 seconds was worth a YouTube viewing.)
When Mark Mitchell was going through his recruitment process at Duke, he had the realization that his future head coach wasn’t just some benchwarmer.
“Actually, funny story,” Murphy said. “I didn’t even know that Coach Scheyer actually was good at basketball until like halfway through my first official visit. I was like, ‘Oh, he was actually a really good player,’ which is kinda crazy.”
It’s kinda crazy because if you didn’t know any better, you’d think Scheyer’s true calling was to be a head coach. Besides his overwhelming knowledge for the game, you’d never think that Scheyer is a one-off of Krzyzewski. His passion, Whitehead said, is something that guys appreciate, as well as Scheyer’s ability to tell guys how it is. “I feel like not a lot of coaches do that,” he said.
Regardless of how the rest of the NCAA Tournament plays out, it’s hard not to be impressed with the job Scheyer did to turn things around midseason in Year 1. With Whitehead and Lively healthy, his team hit a gear in mid-February that few thought was possible.
Seventeen years later, Scheyer’s ability to shift into overdrive still stands out.