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

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

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?

Scheyer: Coach K and I are in a lot of ways closer than ever, David, and that’s even closer than when I was a two-time captain for him, coaching with him, coaching for him for 10 years.

I feel like we’re closer than ever because he’s the only other person I feel that can somewhat even understand what it feels like to be in this seat and be in my shoes. And the only reason I say somewhat is because he doesn’t know what it’s like to follow him, but he knows what it’s like to be the Duke men’s basketball coach. And there’s nobody that knows me better than him, knows our program better.

I think the thing that’s going to separate him and his legacy is the fact that a lot of coaches just want it to be about them and the success they had when they’re in the seat. Where for him, he set our program up for amazing success moving forward, including being a huge advocate and supporter for me, just in the many private conversations we’ve had over the last two years about our team, about our players, about our program moving forward.

He’s been an incredible resource, and he doesn’t want to be out there in the public light and saying it to you, but for me, he’s been a key guy. I think that’s going to follow with him in his legacy. The fact that he’s wanted Duke basketball to continue, regardless of him coaching or not.

DG: Coach K never lost touch with some of his childhood friends from Chicago. He used to tell great stories about — among many other things — how, as teenagers, they would mimic the pro wrestlers of that time. How many of your buddies from Glenbrook North High School do you still keep in touch with? How does that work now that you’re 18 years removed from being around them all the time?

Scheyer: I haven’t been asked that question, and I’m glad you asked it, because for me, you value the family and the close friends more than ever when you go through this, because it’s a lot.

The emotions of wins and losses, and it takes you up and down, and you try to stay steady, but it’s a lot, no matter what. And I have a few group chats still from back home. I have a chat with probably about 15, 20 of us.

But probably my favorite one, we only have about four of us in there — actually, four not including me — and it’s four of my friends from back home. My year in high school, a year above me, and three of them played on the basketball team, one didn’t. Three of them have been my best friends since I’ve been five years old, six years old, and been with each other ever since, and that’s what makes for a special friendship.

They come down often for games, and hopefully it’s what it was with Coach K and Moe (Dennis “Moe” Mlynski) and his crew, where they’d be here for 40-plus years coming to games. They’re only in for two years with me so far.

DG: You’ve said you learned a lot from observing Coach K at the helm, but last year was your first time actually acting as head coach, with the exception of a couple of fill-in games. What were the most important things you learned about yourself as a head coach during your maiden voyage, including that 2023 ACC championship?

Scheyer: I compare it to my freshman year in college, where you feel very confident, you’re excited about it, but (only when) you go through it do you gain a deeper sense of belief in yourself, your system, your values.

And for me, it was just a matter of, after the season, doubling down on those things, because we went through a tremendous amount of adversity in year one, starting with the injuries of (freshmen) Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively, right away at the beginning of the season. So we had to navigate some things a little bit differently.

To see where our team got to by the end of the season, I felt we were playing as well as anybody in the country. We lost a tough game to Tennessee in the second round after winning the ACC Tournament, but I felt we were right there to make a run.

And so, going into this year, I felt just very confident and even a deeper belief, knowing how mentally tough you have to be as a player, but also as an assistant coach, as a head coach. That comes with the territory of being in this program, and that’s the thing I felt the most after year one.

DG: Double question here, because the answers may be related. How have you continued to sign #1-ranked recruiting classes, even in the midst of this famous coaching transition? And unless I’m forgetting somebody, for Coach K’s final 25 years, every full-time assistant coach he had was a former Duke player, but now you have two “outsiders” in Jai Lucas and Emanuel Dildy. Why have you strayed from that 100-percent-Duke approach with your coaching staff?

Scheyer: Well, thank you. I’m excited about the group we have coming in. They’re special players. They’re really good people. They have great families. And I think that’s really what we look for with guys coming to Duke.

I think the thing is opportunity, right? When you recruit players that aren’t here as long, you need to replace them with players that are ready to go right away, and so that’s what we look for. We obviously look for complements too, where there’s developing players that we have, and maybe they’re on a longer track, but we need guys ready to go right away, and next year’s class has that, for sure.

As far as our coaching staff goes, if you look through Coach K’s history — again, not year 25 through year 42, but if you look in the beginning — that’s how he got Mike Brey here. You know,  Mike Brey is one of the great coaches in our game, and (Coach K) got him from DeMatha High School. And he’s found guys from other areas.

I think for me, David, it was the best coach at that time. And Jai Lucas, he has deep Durham roots (his father, former Maryland and NBA player John Lucas, was born and raised in Durham), understands what Duke is all about. Emanuel Dildy has really been a great coach and done it a different way, starting at Kennedy-King College in Chicago.

Still, having Duke people on our staff (including current assistants Chris Carrawell and Will Avery) is always going to be important, and I’m always going to look to bring former players back, because Duke is a special place.

And so for those two (“outsider”) hires, it was the right thing. And going forward, I can tell you we’re going to continue to have lots of Duke former players, coaches, managers on our staff, because Duke is still one of one.

DG: Duke is the only ACC team on which five of the top six guys are freshmen and sophomores. In this transfer portal and NIL-driven world, and with extra COVID-related eligibility, college basketball includes a lot of 23-, 24-, even 25-year-olds, and you have all these freshmen and sophomores out there. Will you pursue older, high-profile transfers, or do you prefer to stick to the old-fashioned way, building largely with prep All-Americans?

Scheyer: Well,  I would flip it on you for a second. If you were to ask other coaches who have some of the guys you’re talking about, the 24-year-olds, and we have a couple of them, by the way, we have a couple of them.

Would you not want Kyle Filipowski, you know, as a freshman or sophomore? You know, would you not want Tyrese Proctor as a freshman or sophomore. Mark Mitchell? I could go down the line. Cooper Flagg for next year. Are you kidding me? Of course you want those guys.

And so, I think the thing that’s important to understand is, year to year, it can change. You may lose a little bit more than you think, and you need a transfer to come in and play a bigger role, which could happen for next year. You may have a core group returning that’s more than you expected, so you don’t need that as much, like was an example for our group this year.

So, for me, we’re always going to take the right person and player, regardless of age. The right talents. Then, finding the combination in the mix of experience, being a little bit older, and also the guys that can help complement winning.

DG: I know right now you’re only thinking of your next opponent, and I get it. But there’s that team down the road that you play at least twice a year, sometimes more. Do you really think about the Tar Heels only twice a year? Is there a broader definition to how you view another of the best basketball programs in college history, right down the road?

Scheyer: To be honest with you, I have such tunnel vision during the season, because — I’m telling you — as soon as you look away or start comparing or wondering, you’re going to get beat. Like, I promise you. You’re going to get beat. I’ve experienced it before.

And so, again, I have great respect for Hubert (Davis), for Carolina’s program and what they’ve done. They’re having a really good year. But it’s all about Clemson for me right now. It’s all about Virginia Tech next. And then it will be about Carolina. But right now, and then throughout the course of the season, it really is about what we’re doing, and that’s it.

DG: I’m pretty sure you can remember going 2-0 against Carolina last season, but would you know — off the top of your head — your overall record against the Tar Heels, counting your time as a player and assistant coach?

Scheyer: I would not, actually. I don’t know.

DG: Overall, the short answer is that you are exactly .500.

Scheyer: Is that right?

DG: You were two-under in the rivalry as a player. You were dead-even as an assistant coach. And, obviously, you’re 2-0 as a head coach. So you’re trending in the right direction.

Scheyer: It’s like the last 100 (Duke-Carolina) games, whatever it is, (where the total points between the teams are almost even). Amazing how that goes.

DG: Our time is short, so I’m going to get you out of here with what we call our lightning round. One-word or one-sentence or otherwise short answers here.

We live in a state that is famous for great beach houses and great lake houses and great mountain houses. In what order would the Scheyer family put those options?

Scheyer: Beach house, lake house, mountain.

DG: Besides basketball, what sport do you follow most closely?

Scheyer: Football and then baseball. Those two.

DG: All-time favorite trip or trips outside the United States?

Scheyer: Oh man, that’s a great question. Took the family to Mexico and had a great time in Mexico.

DG: A few favorite bands or musicians?

Scheyer: I still love Drake. I know our guys are growing into different artists. I love Drake. I grew up on Luther Vandross. I like artists like John Mayer, too. Country music. I kind of can do it all a little bit.

DG: Your tunnel vision suggests that maybe this next question is for the offseason, but do you have a favorite actor or actress or author or artist? Any one of those?

Scheyer: Tom Hanks for me. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. It’s hard to beat those two guys as far as the greatest actors. I listen to different podcasts and things like that, too. But those two guys stand out to me.

DG: Our title sponsor here at the new David Glenn Show is the North Carolina Pork Council, so we ask everybody this question, too. Not everybody has tried Eastern-style barbecue, Western-style barbecue, but most people like bacon, pork shoulders or something else. Do you, Jon Scheyer, have a favorite pork product?

Scheyer: I’ll tell you what, it’s North Carolina barbecue, just in general, I love.

Mark Mitchell is from Kansas City. We went to Kansas City and had some great barbecue there, as well. But I just like any brisket, barbecue chicken. I just like any of that. I’m a big fan of the barbecue down here.

DG: I really appreciate this, Coach. We have a new enterprise with the North Carolina Sports Network, so special thanks for being so generous with your time. I always enjoy our chats.

Scheyer: Same here. I appreciate you, David. Thanks.