Catching up with Jon Scheyer

Jon Scheyer doesn’t believe in regret.

But when the former Blue Devil star watches the NBA playoffs, he can’t help but think how close he was to being a member of the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat and competing for an NBA title.

“Maybe if the eye injury didn’t happen, I felt like I was going to be with the Heat this season,” Scheyer said last week at the ninth annual K Academy. “But I think things happen for a reason.”

It’s been nearly eleven months since Scheyer experienced that career-threatening injury to his optic nerve, along with a retinal tear, that derailed his chances of making an NBA roster for the 2010-11 season. Now, instead of being in Dallas for the NBA Finals, Scheyer can only reflect on the past year, a period he describes as the “hardest time of my life.”

Throughout his basketball career, Scheyer had never experienced an injury that significantly affected his ability to stay on the court. In four years at Duke, Scheyer played in every single one of the team’s 144 games. After July 14, though, when he got hit in the eye during an NBA summer league game in Las Vegas, Scheyer didn’t suit up again until Feb. 22.

The 223-day break in action gave Scheyer’s eye time to heal. Immediately after the injury, Scheyer had to refrain from moving his head excessively for two months, forcing the star guard to remain still for long stretches of time. Nearly a year later, the eye is healthy but the vision hasn’t come back.

“The vision never changed—the vision is still what it was when it got injured,” Scheyer said. “The top half of my [right] eye, I don’t see, but really it has no effect.... It really doesn’t affect me when I play.

“If a plane is coming in from far away, I can’t see, but fortunately you don’t need to see that on a basketball court,” he added, laughing.

The time off also afforded Scheyer the opportunity to learn more about the impact of eye-related injuries on athletes.

Scheyer recalled one instance this past year when he was watching a Baylor women’s basketball game, and Melissa Jones—a senior captain for the Lady Bears—suffered a hit to the head and slowly started to lose her vision over the next couple of possessions. It turned out that Jones had also endured damage to her optic nerve, which had swollen to the point that she could not see out of her right eye. Jones had to play with diminished vision­ for the rest of the season.

When Scheyer was waiting for his own eye to heal, he received a special house call in Chicago from Dr. Terry Kim, Chief Ophthalmologist for Duke men’s basketball. Dr. Kim kept in touch with Scheyer throughout his recovery, inspiring the former Blue Devil to work with Dr. Kim and Duke Sports Medicine to spread awareness about these types of injuries.

“That’s really special to be a part of,” Scheyer said about his partnership with Kim. “There’s a great need for what Dr. Kim has to do, basically like a sports medical eye center. It would just be great to know other people out there that have injuries that are trying to make it through.

“Having this eye injury has opened up a lot of things for me,” Scheyer said, his hands still fidgeting with the goggles that have now become a part of his regular uniform. “I had never realized how significant eye diseases and injuries were. It has a great effect on people.”

Even though he was eventually cut from the Heat roster while still recovering from the injury, Scheyer still had a chance to compete for a title this past year. He joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League midseason, starting 19 of the team’s final 24 games—including all eight playoff contests—as the Vipers advanced to the D-League finals, eventually losing 2-1 in the championship series.

The point guard averaged more than 13 points in just over 33 minutes of action per game, and credited his stint with the Vipers as an opportunity to improve multiple facets of his game, namely his defense. After playing in a system at Duke that heavily-emphasized help defense, the isolation-heavy nature of the professional game forced Scheyer to improve his one-on-one defense.

“I’ve learned a ton in this last year,” he said. “I feel really confident. I feel I’m a better player.”

Scheyer may not have a chance to show off his improved game anytime soon, though. With the current NBA collective bargaining agreement set to expire at the end of this season, he once again faces uncertainty regarding his playing future. He wants to continue to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA, and will attend as many mini-camps as possible if and when a new CBA is agreed upon.

For now, he’s just focused on staying in shape, and watching the finals like any other basketball fan, with as little thought as possible to what could have been.


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