Scheyer ‘jumped’ at chance to join Duke staff
After nearly three years away from Duke while pursuing a professional basketball career, Jon Scheyer’s reintroduction to Blue Devils basketball was immense.
Coaching a team at the K Academy fantasy camp last week, Scheyer’s assistant coaches were Nolan Smith, Brian Zoubek and Kyle Singler — three of his fellow starters from Duke’s 2010 NCAA championship team.
In Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s words, that team was Scheyer’s first assignment in his new job as a special assistant coach on Duke’s staff.
If what he did during the camp is any indication, Scheyer’s future in coaching is bright.
Scheyer’s Team Indy squad finished second in the K Academy Tournament, losing to Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s Team Seattle team 42-36 in the camp championship game.
But even before that performance, Krzyzewski’s confidence in the 25-year-old Scheyer to transition from player to coach was strong.
“He’ll make it great,” Krzyzewski said. “Jon is a natural. He was that here. He’s one of the most loved players here and one of the most accomplished.”
Scheyer averaged 18.2 points as a senior in 2009-10, picking up second team All-American honors while helping the Blue Devils win the fourth national championship of Krzyzewski’s tenure.
He attempted to make an NBA roster after going undrafted but suffered a serious injury when he was poked in the right eye during an NBA Summer League game in July 2010. Damage to his optic nerve cost him half the vision in the eye, yet Scheyer worked to continue his playing career nevertheless.
He played in the NBA Developmental League and overseas in Israel and in the Spanish League.
But when Chris Collins left his job as associate head coach at Duke to become Northwestern’s head coach, Krzyzewski had an opening. Nate James was promoted from special assistant to full assistant coach, which means James can work with players on the court during practice and recruit off-campus.
Krzyzewski contacted Scheyer about returning to Duke to begin his coaching career.
“That’s something I really jumped at,” Scheyer said. “(I thought) I would love that opportunity. I felt like I’ve had a really good playing career, but I felt this was a great opportunity to start a new career path, especially coming here to Duke to start.”
Scheyer left Gran Canaira, his Spanish League team, and returned to Durham. He is excited his coaching career, but letting go of his playing career isn’t like turning off a switch.
“I think I still feel like I’m a player,” Scheyer said. “For a while, at least, it won’t go away. It’s not like I don’t love to play anymore. I still can play.”
His job now is to instill that passion for the game in Duke’s players while, within the confines of the NCAA rules that govern his position, help make them as good as they can be.
“He can’t be on the court with the guys with a basketball,” Krzyzewski said. “But he’ll be heavily involved in strength and conditioning, the development of players, their mental stuff, their people skills. He’ll be terrific.”
Scheyer will do so while being only a few years older than the players. Redshirt senior Andre Dawkins is the only active player remaining from Duke’s 2010 team who played alongside Scheyer.
“I was a senior, and I had him bring me Gatorade after every practice,” Scheyer said.
Mostly, Scheyer said he will seek to instruct the players with his point of view of having played point guard under Krzyzewski.
“Little things — anything I see I think I can tell the players,” Scheyer said. “Coach K is going to be the main voice. But anything I can pick up on and tell, the guards in particular, to help with this year, I’ll start there and we’ll see how it goes.”
While playing in Europe, Scheyer said he stayed up at odd hours to watch Duke games. He has been around some of the current Blue Devils the few times he returned to campus over the past couple of years. So he doesn’t anticipate a difficult adjustment.
“I think I have a pretty good feel,” Scheyer said. “This is going to be a really, cool team, a unique team for Duke. It’s going to be exciting.”
A second-place finish for a group of fantasy campers is a start. But as Scheyer knows, Duke’s standards are even loftier than that.
“I feel very fortunate to be in this position,” Scheyer said. “My whole basketball career has been about hard work and the love for the game and working at it. So that’s what I’m going to do as a coach on the staff here.”