GREENSBORO, N.C. — The lyrics sound prophetic, pumping by the Greensboro Coliseum loudspeakers at ludicrous quantity. All visuals apart — the rainshower of blue-and-white confetti, a whole decrease bowl synchronized in fist-pumping celebration — nothing can distract from or drown out Cascada’s refrain, hitting its peak on the excellent time:
“I can’t let you go, want you in my life …”
As if proper on cue, some scripted entrance to a storybook night, the phrases die down and a person emerges from a crowd of cameras: Jon Scheyer, Duke’s first-year head coach. Given that is Scheyer’s 14th season in some capability with the Blue Devils — 4 as a participant, 9 as an assistant coach, and now one main this system — he’s aware of this scene. The music. The confetti. The makeshift stage being assembled at midcourt, and the ACC event trophy which can be delivered upon it. He’s been right here 4 instances earlier than, was as soon as named MVP of this event.
But this one’s totally different: Because he’s by no means been accountable for this scene earlier than. Now, because the 35-year-old chief of certainly one of school basketball’s bluest bloods, he’s accountable for every little thing Duke, from the X’s and O’s right down to the gameday suits the teaching workers wears. (For Saturday’s 59-49 win over Virginia? Black sweatshirts, with matching athleisure pants.)
And this? The program’s twenty second ACC event championship, after three wins in three days over three groups Duke had beforehand misplaced to this season?
Damn proper he’s accountable for that, too.
In doing so, Scheyer turned simply the third head coach ever to win the ACC event in his first season — following Vic Bubas and Bill Gurthridge — and the primary to take action in 25 years. Also, he’s now the one individual in league historical past to have gained the convention event as each a participant and head coach. Dozens of coaches go their complete careers with out hitting this milestone, and but right here Scheyer is, all of 34 video games into his teaching profession, making historical past.
Oh, yeah. And he’s achieved it lower than a calendar yr after changing the winningest coach in males’s school basketball historical past, Mike Krzyzewski.
“A lot of people can say, maybe they want this job, but really wanting this job, and everything that goes with it?” Scheyer’s father, Jim, advised The Athletic. “We’ve always talked about daring greatly, daring bravely. Just going for it — and that, I think, is what we’re most proud of.”
Jim pauses for a second, craning his neck to soak in the entire scene: “And obviously,” he provides, “the success is amazing.”
This, after all, just isn’t a profession capper.
But … take a look at this, will you?
“I mean, we knew,” athletic director Nina King mentioned. “So for everybody else to see, he is Duke. Amazing player, amazing assistant coach, and now our head coach. I mean, what more can you say?”
Plenty, really. When Scheyer was first named as Krzyewski’s successor again in the summertime of 2021, it was achieved so deliberately, with a purpose to give him a runway. An 11-month-long apprenticeship, basically. There had been critics — inside and exterior — of that plan, of the ability dynamic to stability; most coaches simply cease, stroll away, determine they’ve had sufficient and go away the seat heat on the way in which out. Duke, intentionally, didn’t. It tried to prioritize continuity from a ten,000-foot degree, to stop any actual or perceived dips after a long time of dominance.
“Some coaches can say it, but not everybody means it or believes it, where they want to see the program continue on at such a high level — and he wanted it,” Scheyer mentioned. “To allow me the opportunity to recruit these guys … that could have never happened. For me, it’s about the belief we had in each other, and it started with that moment right there.”
Scheyer needed to take advantage of that point. An bold plan, definitely: Convince among the finest highschool skills in America to return to Duke — and play for somebody who has by no means been a head coach at any degree.
But, he did. When Tyrese Proctor — the Australian level guard whose recreation Scheyer liked, who hounded Virginia’s Kihei Clark on Saturday right into a six-point, 1-of-9 taking pictures night time — performed a event in Las Vegas, there Scheyer was, watching each recreation and calling thereafter with notes. “Just giving me advice,” Proctor mentioned, earlier than he’d even formally signed. Same take care of Dereck Lively II, the No. 1 recruit within the nation in response to most rankings. “He was really the only coach I was able to build a relationship with; that’s the reason why I came here,” Lively mentioned. “I felt like he was the realest person to me.” That’s why, earlier this season, when Lively was scuffling with foul bother and match inside Duke’s system, Scheyer was in a position to be brutally sincere with him and get a optimistic response again.
Since then Lively’s been, as Scheyer says typically, “a unicorn” defensively, a 7-foot-1 shadow who by some means can cowl each guards and facilities.
To some extent, perhaps we should always’ve seen this coming. When Scheyer was certainly one of Krzyzewski’s assistants, recruiting present workforce captain Jeremy Roach — who scored 19 of his career-high 23 factors within the second half on Saturday, together with a number of late free throws to ice the sport — he was the primary individual on Duke’s workers to achieve out to the five-star prospect. Then, when Roach tore his ACL as a highschool junior, there Scheyer was once more, first with phrases of encouragement.
“He was like, I’m still with you,” Roach mentioned. “I got your back through everything — even through this injury, like we’re still with you. We still want you to come here. So that meant a lot to me, and when your coach has this much confidence in you, you’ve gotta rise to the occasion.”
Scheyer’s workforce definitely did that this week, placing the ending touches on a nine-game profitable streak that presently is among the many longest within the nation. It has morphed from a fairly good defensive workforce into an elite one, a authentic top-20 facet nationally since February started, per BartTorvik. And this week, in the end, the offense rose to an identical degree. Against each Pittsburgh and Miami, Duke averaged above 1.325 factors per possession, wanting extra locked in than final season’s Final Four squad. Saturday was not fairly so sterling, towards Virginia’s vaunted packline protection, however the Blue Devils nonetheless averaged 1 PPP, led largely by Roach and event MVP Kyle Filipowski.
Speaking of Filipowski, his Scheyer story might be the perfect of all of them. Before the 7-foot stretch 4 — who scored 20 factors and recorded his sixteenth double-double of the season, towards the one workforce to have held him scoreless all yr — formally dedicated, he remembers a selected telephone name with Scheyer. They had been discussing championships they wished to win collectively, their overlapping imaginative and prescient for what could be potential at Duke 2.0.
“And at the same time, he told me that he’d accidentally knocked over his ACC championship trophy — I don’t know which one — but from the past,” Filipowski mentioned with a smile within the locker room, a chunk of web knotted across the left facet of his championship hat. “I just kinda take those things as a little sign. I just felt in my gut that I wanted to do this with Coach Scheyer.”
It isn’t simply gamers with these tales of religion, these seemingly-hyperbolic instincts to belief a first-timer. When Krzyzewski first advised his workers he was retiring, a number of months earlier than it turned public, affiliate head coach Chris Carrawell was within the sixth-floor convention room the place it occurred — and instantly, he voiced his assist for Scheyer because the successor. “I told you he had it,” Carrawell mentioned Saturday. “He’s always had the poise, though, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But when you’re in that seat, it’s a different seat.” That poise, some sense of unusual steadfastness, is a standard chorus amongst individuals who know Scheyer finest. Special assistant Mike Schrage was on Duke’s workers when Scheyer was a participant: “When he was 18, 19 years old, he was mature beyond his years then,” Schrage mentioned. “It’s not too big for him.” So when Scheyer got here calling final offseason, providing Schrage a job again on workers, the previous Elon coach opted to simply accept — even making the tough choice to cede his personal program within the course of.
None of this stuff are regular, by the way in which. But they’re what made Scheyer a championship-winning guard beneath Krzyzewski, after which an ace recruiter, and now, the chief of certainly one of America’s hottest basketball groups.
“All I can tell you is ever since I’ve been young — I’m talking real young — I’ve believed I was going to succeed,” Scheyer mentioned. “My team was going to win. It didn’t always win, but found a way at really every level. Whether it was unrealistic or not, that’s how I felt.”
That interior ethos is why, regardless of Duke’s rocky begin to this season, Scheyer stayed the course. Through accidents to Lively and Roach and fellow stud recruit Dariq Whitehead, gamers shuffling out and in of the lineup, the longtime assistant by no means wavered within the confidence that this is able to all come collectively. Some, understandably, may name that naive. Dangerously optimistic, and even delusional.
But as Scheyer’s dad and mom have at all times recognized, that mentality isn’t a selection. It’s simply who Duke’s head coach is, and can proceed to be.
“He’s always been a ‘no excuses’ person,” his mom, Laury, mentioned.
Adds Jim: “And he’s always reacted to adversity, and he’s used that as a way to grow.”
Scheyer returned a Final Four-caliber guard in Roach and added the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class this summer time. Let’s not overlook: His gamers are those making this all occur, the wins and the trophy and the blazing sizzling path left of their wake. A workforce with top-10 expertise is lastly taking part in as such, slamming on the fuel at simply the best second.
Scheyer, although, has steered them there. Through blowout losses, by “matters considered closed.”
In lower than a yr on the job, he has set the character for this system, and let the untainted perception trickle down to each crevice.
Now, the place Duke goes subsequent? The NCAA Tournament is notoriously fickle, its magnificence in the truth that any workforce can fall at any level. (Just ask among the highly-seeded Duke groups Scheyer labored on beforehand, which made unexpectedly early exits from the bracket.)
But no matter comes subsequent doesn’t detract from what Scheyer has already achieved. He has taken agency possession of one thing that may at all times, indirectly, be owned by another person — and he’s achieved so virtually instantly. So, savor that — identical to Scheyer’s dad and mom and his spouse, Marcelle, had been on the Greensboro Coliseum court docket. “Someone take a photo,” Marcelle mentioned, eager to commemorate the second as clearly as potential. By the time Scheyer ascended a ladder beneath the online, it was 10:58 p.m., a 20-minute celebration displaying no indicators of stopping.
Afterward, he, too, hopped into the picture frenzy, posing with the whole Scheyer clan after their first crowning achievement. The plan is for extra to observe. But this may at all times be the primary.
“He’s building this program for a long time. He’s gonna be here a long time,” Schrage mentioned. “I think the foundation was going to be built no matter what with this group — but it’s just really fun to see it kinda clicking right now.”
(Top picture: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)