The Man Who Would Be K doesn’t see himself that way.
Jon Scheyer will take over for Mike Krzyzewski as the head coach of the Duke University men’s basketball team after this season, which the school announced on June 2, removing all speculation and putting the associate head coach Scheyer and the program in the comfortable position of knowing what the future holds.
Still, it’s an enormous responsibility that should bring an equal amount of pressure, following someone who has won more games than any other Division I men’s coach, amassed a 1,097-302 (.784) record at Duke, won five national championships and made it to 12 Final Fours.
But as much as Scheyer will naturally model himself after Coach K, for whom Scheyer twice served as captain and won the national championship in 2010, he expects to establish his own identity when he takes over the Blue Devils for the 2022-23 season.
“I’ll be fully instinctual,” Scheyer said at the Capital Center on Monday, where he was attending the American Cancer Society’s 16th Basket “Ball” benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer.
“I gave it a great amount of thought before I took the job. What makes Coach K great is that’s who he is, and I’ve always been true to myself whether it’s as a player or a coach.
“I know I’m not him. I’m not going to try to be him. But, honestly, there’s a lot of things that we think alike, and that’s part of the advantage of being alongside him for eight or nine years. I’ll follow my own instincts, and I think the results will speak for themselves.”
Scheyer was at the Basket “Ball,” co-hosted by Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello and his wife Laura with UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings and his wife Ana, to accept the Champion of Hope Award.
Other award recipients were City Rocks coach Jim Hart (Inspiration Award) and Jenna Meier of Guilderland (Mary Ann Raymond Donnelly Fighting Spirit Award).
When Krzyzewski retires after this season, Scheyer will become one of the youngest head coaches in Division I. Even Maciariello and Killings, who are on the young side, at 43 and 40, respectively, are considerably older than Scheyer.
And his head coaching experience amounts to one game, an 83-82 victory over Boston College last season when Krzyzewski missed the game while in quarantine for COVID-19.
Still, Scheyer has been groomed for this transition and moved to the head of the line in recent years as former Duke players who joined Krzyzewski’s staff left for head coaching jobs.
Scheyer was hired as an assistant after the 2013-14 season, when Steve Wojciechowski took the Marquette head coaching job, and moved up to associate head coach, along with Nate James, when Jeff Capel left for Pitt after the 2017-18 season.
James was hired by Austin Peay in April.
“I feel as ready as I can be,” Scheyer said. “There’s going to be challenges. There’s no playbook for somebody, right? For following someone like Coach K in the program. But I think the infrastructure we have in place and the way we’ve done the succession, where there’s a year of transition period, has been a great deal of help, where we can put together a great recruiting class and a great roster for next year.”
From a talent standpoint, Scheyer has been credited as the primary recruiter who brought Jayson Tatum, Cam Reddish, Vernon Carey and 2021 five-star forward Paolo Banchero to Durham, North Carolina. He had some influence on Zion Williamson’s selection of Duke, also.
Naming him as Krzyzewski’s successor before Coach K’s final season removes any uncertainty for current high school prospects.
“First and foremost, it helps from a roster standpoint, where you get a chance to recruit the class that’s going to play for you,” Scheyer said. “If it happened after the season, you’d be scrambling.
“The second thing is you look at the program through a different lens. When Coach K and I talked about this, there’s two big positives. One, everybody that’s on our staff right now and everybody that’s on our team as players, they’re in the moment. They’re not concerned about what’s going to happen after the year or who’s going to be the coach. That’s settled. So we’re allowed to be in the moment and focus on the task at hand.”
Scheyer said the Boston College game last season was an interesting window into running the bench and having the final word on in-game decisions.
And there was a new form of pressure, since it wasn’t his team.
“We were actually down by 16 in the first half, and you have to follow your instincts, follow your heart and of course it was a little bit different circumstance, because after the game you have to call Coach K,” Scheyer said with a chuckle. “That’s his team. You better get that win.
“But every game, he allows me to have the freedom, anything I see or feel, I bounce off him and tell him, and we bounce things off each other. So that experience I’ve had for years.”
The Duke men’s basketball team is accustomed to facing harsh road crowds already, but this season should bring a new twist to that, too, a form of farewell tour for Krzyzewski in his 41st season with the Blue Devils.
“I think the atmospheres will be incredible, because for coach, it’s going to be the final time he’s in that arena, so we expect to see great crowds, hostile environments,” Scheyer said. “As it relates to myself, I’m not sure how that impacts anything, but I think our team, part of the reason you come to Duke is to play in front of incredible crowds and arenas, so we’ll get a chance to do that this year.”
Scheyer said among the vast knowledge Krzyzewski has imparted upon him is the importance of using a high-profile platform like this to make a difference in people’s lives.
The Coaches vs. Cancer movement hits home for him because his grandmother suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and the matriarch of his host family when he played professionally in Israel died of breast cancer.
The Albany Basket “Ball” has raised over $2.5 million toward increasing cancer awareness and advocacy.
He knows, as the Duke head coach next season filling impossibly large shoes, there will be pressure to maintain the success of the program, but said the pressure he’ll put on himself will dwarf whatever comes from external sources.
“I didn’t take this job being concerned about outside noise, and if that was the case, I would’ve already failed at the job,” Scheyer said. “As much pressure as anybody can have on me, I guarantee I’ll have bigger expectations on myself. So I hold myself to a high standard of expectation and responsibility and carrying this program forward. I don’t take that lightly. But we’re not going to be consumed by it.”
Reach Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]
More from The Daily Gazette: