The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jon Scheyer, a Duke lifer at 35, emerges from the shadow of a legend

Jon Scheyer, right, has taken the reins of Duke's storied basketball program after the retirement last season of legend Mike Krzyzewski. (David J. Phillip/AP)

CHARLOTTE — When Jon Scheyer arrives at work each day, the Duke men’s basketball coach can’t help but feel the aura of his predecessor. And it’s not only because Mike Krzyzewski amassed the most wins in college basketball history as the architect of the Blue Devils’ storied program.

Krzyzewski still has an office at Cameron Indoor Stadium, providing a gentle reminder of the 1,202 wins, five national championships, 13 Final Four appearances and 15 ACC tournament titles he collected before he retired after last season and left the program in the hands of his top assistant.

But Scheyer hasn’t seen his former coach much around the building lately, an indication Krzyzewski is inclined to provide the elbow room necessary for the first-year coach to forge his own identity while still dispensing sage advice when asked.

“Coach K and I, we’re as close as can be,” Scheyer, 35, said Wednesday during ACC media day. “Over half my life, he’s been my go-to guy. That’s not going to change. What has changed is he’s not coaching. Our relationship is as strong as ever. I go to him, talk about many things beyond basketball. …

“He’s entering a new phase of his life, and obviously I’m doing the same, but the relationship that we’ve built is not going to change, ever.”

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Scheyer first met Krzyzewski when he was 16 and a standout high school prospect at Glenbrook North in Northbrook, Ill. A connection with then-Duke assistant Chris Collins, also a graduate of Glenbrook North, lured Scheyer to Durham, N.C., even as he recalled disliking the Blue Devils initially because of their massive popularity.

Conversations with Collins and Krzyzewski convinced Scheyer his best crack at winning a national championship would be at Duke. So committed to that result was Scheyer that he moved to point guard during his freshman season because of a dearth of depth at the position.

By the time he was a senior, Scheyer drew copious praise from Krzyzewski for his command of the position, particularly when it came to decision-making in the most meaningful instances. The numbers don’t lie: In 2009, Scheyer became the first player in Duke history to record 1,400 points, 400 rebounds, 250 assists, 200 three-pointers and 150 steals in a career.

A two-time captain — including on the 2010 national championship team — Scheyer only added to his Duke bona fides once he joined Krzyzewski’s staff in 2013. He emerged as the most qualified candidate to replace Krzyzewski when the legend announced before the start of last season he would be stepping away.

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“It’s been a smooth transition,” said guard Jeremy Roach, one of the Blue Devils’ captains this season and a Leesburg native who played high school basketball at Paul VI. “Coach Scheyer is always going to give guys that confidence. That’s the biggest thing about Coach Scheyer. He’s going to make you feel comfortable.”

Thanks largely to Scheyer, another constant has remained in place despite Krzyzewski’s absence. The Blue Devils again have the highest-rated freshman class in the country, according to recruiting websites such as ESPN and 247Sports.

The trio of 7-foot-1 center Dereck Lively II, 6-6 wing Dariq Whitehead and Kyle Filipowski, a 6-11 forward-center — all five-star recruits — have Duke poised for perhaps another extended run in March after reaching the ACC tournament championship game and the Final Four last season.

“I’m excited that they believed in the vision that we had,” Scheyer said. “Of course what Duke basketball stands for and what Duke University is all about, but at the end of the day I couldn’t show who I am as a basketball coach, so a lot comes down to the relationships we’ve built and the trust that we’ve developed.”

Krzyzewski’s departure leaves the ACC without its highest-profile coach one season after another luminary, Roy Williams, unexpectedly retired from North Carolina. Williams won three national championships with the Tar Heels and 903 total games during his career.

The longest-tenured coach in the ACC is Jim Boeheim, who has been at Syracuse since 1976 and served as an assistant to Krzyzewski on multiple U.S. men’s national teams, including most recently with the squad that won the gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Krzyzewski’s imprint in the ACC remains at other member schools such as Pittsburgh, where Jeff Capel III, a former Duke player and assistant, has served as coach since 2018.

“We never really talked that much in the offseason except when we worked together,” Boeheim, 77, said of Krzyzewski. “He’s busy. He’s gardening and stuff with the grandchildren. I told him, I said, ‘When it snows, what are you going to do then?’ But he’ll be fine. I think he felt the time was right.

“He brought a lot to the college game, more than anyone probably, as did Roy and [former Villanova coach] Jay Wright. Those guys are hard to replace, but as we all know, there’s nobody that’s irreplaceable.”