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Jon Scheyer’s First Two Years As Duke’s Coach Have Been Pretty Amazing

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-Practice
Mar 28, 2024; Dallas, TX, USA; Duke Blue Devils head coach Jon Scheyer speaks to the media during a practice day at American Airline Center.  | Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Young Scheyer has accomplished a lot already, but nothing is more impressive than putting his own successful stamp on Duke Basketball.

You may have noticed that we have talked at times about how the transition from Mike Krzyzewski to Jon Scheyer is ongoing. It’s been an interesting process.

It’s not so much because Duke got to the Elite Eight although that’s certainly part of it. It’s more that Scheyer has put an indisputable stamp on the program and has, we think, stepped out of Coach K’s considerable shadow.

Let’s look back a bit first.

When Krzyzewski announced his retirement, Scheyer seemed somewhat...overwhelmed? No, that’s not the word. Unprepared? Absolutely not.

It’s more that he just seemed young, like an apprentice stepping in for a masterful coach. That can’t be easy for anyone in that situation.

Remember his first game? He seemed pretty slight on the sideline, at least to us. He was adjusting though.

But he made his mark first with lights-out recruiting, which was good because Duke’s one-and-done philosophy in the Late K era meant that only Jeremy Roach and Jaylen Blakes returned from Coach K’s final team.

Last year, Scheyer overcame major injuries to win the ACC Tournament and also to win his first NCAA game before losing to Tennessee in the Round of 32.

This year he had challenges again, with injuries to several players, most notably Caleb Foster, who has been out since the loss at Wake Forest.

Duke finished the regular season on a slide, losing to UNC and then NC State in the ACC Tournament.

But since then, the Blue Devils were impressive against Vermont, overwhelming against James Madison and Saturday night out-toughed an incredibly tough #1 seed Houston.

Duke is in the Elite Eight and will play NC State for the right to go to the Final Four.

We mean no disrespect to Krzyzewski - we think he of all people must understand the importance of this - but Scheyer appears to have stepped out of Coach K’s considerable shadow.

Think how difficult a thing this is.

It didn’t happen at UCLA when John Wooden retired. It didn't happen at Kentucky when Adolph Rupp retired. Joe B. Hall was never fully appreciated. It didn’t happen at Indiana when Bob Knight stepped down and in fact still hasn’t happened there. UNC burned through Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty before Roy Williams came home.

It took a very long time at Marquette after Al McGuire, Syracuse is still a question mark after Jim Boeheim and St. John’s has had a tough time since Lou Carnesecca stepped down in 1992 (Carnesecca will turn 100 in January, by the way).

Only UConn has nailed this but they had to go through the unpleasant end of the Kevin Ollie era before hiring Danny Hurley who is doing a brilliant job.

The bottom line is that Scheyer has managed, in two years, to do the following: essentially start over with a virtually new roster, recruit better than anyone in the sport, build a record that currently stands at 54-17 (76 percent), win an ACC Championship in his first year and get to the Elite Eight in his second - and to do all of that in a period of immense change in the sport, which he by the way seems to be ahead of.

Basically, other than a national championship - which of course is still possible - it’s a royal flush. It’s just stunning really.

And when you look at the class he has assembled for next season, there is no reason to think more success isn’t on the way.

Obviously he’s in a very different situation than Krzyzewski was. When Coach K got to Duke in 1980 - at roughly the same age - Duke had just three good players. It took him a year to figure out how to recruit for Duke and then another to season the players he brought in in 1982. It took Coach K three seasons to turn in a winning season and he didn't get past the first weekend in the NCAA tournament until the 1985-86 season.

Those first three years were really tough times for him and, as he has said, some boosters wanted him gone.

Scheyer had a very different situation, but not necessarily an easier one because of the enormous expectations he walked into.

There will surely be years when Duke struggles in one way or another. Just look at what Houston had to go through this season with a ridiculous number of injuries.

That’s just the breaks or perhaps the Basketball Gods playing dice with the game. It happened to Krzyzewski; it happens to anyone who coaches long enough.

The fact is though that Scheyer has done an incredible job under immense pressure and he’s building momentum for even more.

In our opinion, the transition is over. It’s his program now and clearly it’s in good hands.



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