1-On-1 With Duke Coach Jon Scheyer;
2nd-Year Leader Joins David Glenn Show (Part 1)

By Ben McCormick
North Carolina Sports Network

There may not be a name more ubiquitous in recent Duke basketball history than that of Jon Scheyer.

Some may look at Mike Krzyzewski’s 42-year tenure at Duke and think the idea of anyone besides the Hall of Fame coach popping up more in Cameron Crazie lore is ludicrous. After all, the court is named after Coach K. Heck, the lawn outside the stadium (Krzyzewskiville) bears his name, too.

Scheyer’s time as a Blue Devil, though, has been a bit more versatile than that of his mentor and immediate predecessor. The 36-year-old was an All-American player in Durham. He was a national champion during his senior year and ended his career with 2,077 career points — the 10th-highest mark in Duke history.

Scheyer also spent nine years on Krzyzewski’s coaching staff, slowly working his way up the ranks until he couldn’t climb any higher. When Coach K announced his retirement in June 2021, Scheyer was appointed as his successor, starting with the 2022-23 season.

Scheyer’s first season as Duke’s head coach had its ups and downs. The Blue Devils began the year ranked #7 by the Associated Press, then spent the majority of the regular season unranked, then won the ACC Tournament.

Despite pulling in #1-ranked recruiting classes one after another, Scheyer’s Blue Devils are a shining example that winning is never simple in college basketball. Taking over for one of the game’s greatest coaches isn’t simple, either.

The truth is, comparing Scheyer to Krzyzewski is like comparing apples to oranges. They belong to the same family — The Brotherhood — but there’s so much about them that’s different. Their journeys in Durham have certainly varied.

Now, in his second year as Duke’s head coach, Scheyer is facing high expectations. The Blue Devils began the season ranked #2 in the AP preseason poll, and they are still ranked in the top 10, but that doesn’t tell the complete story.

After suffering three losses before Christmas for the second consecutive year, pressure mounted. Losses at Arkansas and Georgia Tech brought a keen gaze of skepticism onto the Devils. Then, after they won eight straight and shook off some of the doubters, injuries dragged them down once again.

Without senior captain Jeremy Roach and sophomore starter Mark Mitchell, Duke fell unexpectedly to Pittsburgh at home — a team it had defeated decidedly on the road just 11 days earlier.

Scheyer’s Duke experience is unique not only because of the roles he’s played, but also via the circumstances under which he took over as the head coach.

Facing championship aspirations immediately is atypical in college basketball, but that is the reality of what Krzyzewski built. Having a top-10 squad with a 16-4 record is not anything to scoff at. That’s the type of resume that often commands respect, but at Duke, the expectations are at a different level.

When the Devils arrive in Chapel Hill on Saturday, it will be Scheyer’s 517th game at Duke, either as a player or on the coaching staff. He knows the expectations of Duke well, and he knows the pressure that comes with the job.

His team appears to be turning over a new leaf. His players look rejuvenated after claiming big wins over Clemson and Virginia Tech, but the #3 Tar Heels will provide a uniquely difficult challenge. There’s even more pressure than usual, but that’s the nature of Duke-Carolina.

Ahead of Saturday night’s rivalry matchup, Scheyer recently joined the David Glenn Show for a lengthy, 1-on-1 interview on the North Carolina Sports Network.

This is Part One of that conversation. Part Two can be found here.

DG: Take us back to the spring of 2021. You interviewed for the DePaul job, didn’t get it, and were disappointed. Then somehow, within months, you’re the Duke head coach. Meanwhile, you had two small children, with another on the way. Wasn’t that a crazy time to jump into your dream job?

Scheyer: We moved in the same year, by the way, not to mention. But, you know what, I think I’ll look back hopefully a long time from now, and the years 2020 and 2021 were two defining years, probably for my family and probably for a lot of people because of the pandemic. It allowed me to really take some time and think about what I wanted to do moving forward.

I always wanted to be a head coach, but I really dove into the process of being a head coach at a deeper level, besides just being an assistant coach, because life was kind of on pause there for a few months. So I did a deep deep dive on myself — strengths, blind spots — and really felt like I could be a young head coach. I was ready to do it.

You mentioned DePaul, but I interviewed for a couple head coaching jobs. One of them I thought I was going to get, and didn’t at the end. Another one, I kind of got cold feet right then — I didn’t feel it was the right fit.

I didn’t have any expectation of being the Duke head coach at that time, and in the course of about three months, circumstances changed. The opportunity was there, interviewed, went for it, and June 1, 2021, I became the men’s basketball coach at Duke. It was one of the best days of my life.

DG: Normally, the last thing I would want to do is ask you about something painful, but you’ve turned something painful into something meaningful. Some forget about the serious eye injury you suffered in the NBA Summer League right after graduating from Duke; you had a retinal tear and optic nerve damage, you were wearing an eyepatch for a while, and I heard you had debilitating headaches during the recovery process.

But if you had not unplugged your playing career when you did, you wouldn’t have been this uniquely qualified 34-year-old head coaching candidate with eight years under Coach K. How do you reflect on what was a physically painful moment that has seemingly turned out well in a different way?

Scheyer: You know, that’s another, of course, defining moment for me.

I don’t believe in everything happens for a reason. I don’t necessarily believe that. I think if you look at all different things, all different circumstances across the world, way worse than my eye injury, I don’t think you can rationalize some things that happen. But I do think you can control how you respond to things that happen to you.

That was really the last goal that I had for my playing career. It was the final step, you know. I told my dad when I was about 13, 14 years old, about to enter high school, that I had a few dreams, and one was to be a McDonald’s All-American, one was to win a national championship. I actually told him we’re gonna win the national championship, and I’m gonna be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Whether I was saying it or not, it happened.

And then the last one was to play in the NBA. There was no piece of me that thought that wasn’t going to happen. And the eye injury, even after that, I played a month and a half later. I went back to training camp with the Clippers. I played summer league with the 76ers. I played on the Houston Rockets’ G-League Team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and was determined to get back.

I made a decision to go play in Europe for two years. Great experiences as a person and as a player. But I felt in my heart at that point, when I was 25, I always dreamed about being a head coach, and I thought I’d be at age 35, not 25. But I knew it was the right time to get into it with Coach K. Something else was destined for me, and I think this was the path that I was meant to be on.

DG: Having followed you and Coach K for a long time, I could make a list of similarities and a few differences. Similarities include your intelligence and deep roots in the Chicago area. Some differences are that you don’t drop as many F-bombs, and you’re not as hard on the referees. What’s us an example of a Jon Scheyer tweak to the Coach K way, and what were the most important things you wanted to make sure remained the same

Scheyer: It’s funny. The amazing part of being the Duke men’s basketball head coach: Duke is the best university in the world. I think we have the best program in the world, and a lot of great things come with that.

I think on the flip side, you know, in year one or year two, you’re being compared to what Coach K did in year 40, 41, 42. And so for me, I think people can assume, ‘OK, you’re not as hard on the refs, or you don’t drop as many F-bombs,’ or all those things. And that may be true, by the way; I’m not saying it’s not true. But also, that’s part of who I am as a person, too. Now, I’m not saying dropping F-bombs. I’m talking about being a competitor, and that’s a huge similarity that I follow with Coach K.

Like, I want to win as badly as anybody. And for me, I realized that I have to do it a different way. I knew going into this I’d be compared to him, and for me, I have to be myself. Because at the end of the day, it’s a different time in college basketball. But also, I know who I am. I know what my strengths are, and I have to continue to get better as a coach as these next few years go on.

So again, for me, the most important thing, though, to your question, David, is I want people to look at Duke basketball and still feel the same way. It’s not just about winning to me; it’s about how Duke basketball makes you feel. It’s about seeing a group, a team, come together and sacrifice for one another. The unselfishness. And the mentality that if you play Duke, it’s going to be 40 minutes. You’ve got to play your butts off for 40 minutes to be able to beat us.

And that’s something that we don’t have the luxury of having three- or four-year players as much, but that’s something we have to continue to create with our culture in a shorter time period.

DG: Coach K was another recent guest here on the David Glenn Show, and he said that he loves you, loves being around you, is energized by being around your players, but doesn’t want to be a distraction. What’s the best way to describe your dynamic with him now? He’s still on the Duke payroll, so are you putting him to work on a regular basis?

NOTE: Part Two of Jon Scheyer’s interview with David Glenn will be posted prior to Saturday’s (Feb. 3) game against UNC. The entire audio/video of the interview already is available below.