The man who has become synonymous with Duke men’s basketball will no longer be at the helm after the 2021-22 season.
Now that head coach Mike Krzyzewski will be making his farewell tour in this upcoming campaign, the men’s basketball program will be faced with its biggest obstacle since Krzyzewski took over the reins back in 1980: handing off the baton to a new head coach in Jon Scheyer.
But even though Scheyer will be faced with a daunting task, Krzyzewski gave the Duke faithful one last gift before he officially retires.
Barring a national championship in this next season, the mere timing of Krzyzewski’s announcement is something that Blue Devil fans should be thanking him for.
Let’s lay the chips out on the table here. When Krzyzewski came over from Army, the program was certainly not in shambles, but it was also nowhere as prominent in the landscape of men’s college basketball and the sports world in general. Fast forward to now, and Krzyzewski has amassed five national titles, 1,097 wins and turned Duke men’s basketball into one of the largest brands in not just college sports, but sports in general.
So to say Scheyer has big shoes to fill is a gross understatement, but the fact that he is going to have this next year with the entire world knowing he will be Duke’s head coach starting in the 2022-23 season will be crucial in making this transition as smooth as possible.
We can start with the scrutiny that comes from everyone outside of the Duke faithful at every little blemish Krzyzewski has. If he tells a player to zig instead of zag, you’ll see it plastered all over Twitter. If he subs a player out for someone that people feel like should have been in, you can be sure to see it in headlines the next day.
So Scheyer is going to have to learn how to deal with being watched under a microscope, and he’s going to have to do it quickly. The Duke faithful aren’t exactly known for being the most forgiving of fan bases, something that was seen in the 1980s when Krzyzewski struggled in his first few years.
That’s where the advantage of the early retirement announcement will come into play for Scheyer. He’s had a front row seat for years to how closely Krzyzewski is watched and this next season, he will start to get a taste of what it feels like to be the face of the program.
Scheyer’s early success is going to hinge directly off of if he can continue to snag the top recruits that Krzyzewski has throughout his 41 years. Luckily for Scheyer, he can recruit the 2022 class with Krzyzewski alongside him in living rooms, Zoom calls and Schwartz-Butters. Hearing Krzyzewski vouch for Scheyer in a recruit’s official visit will play heavily into the 33-year-old's favor, and Scheyer has already proven he is a skilled recruiter. If Scheyer can parlay that recruiting prowess into another top-five recruiting class in just his first season as head coach, he will put himself in a very good position to start off his career with a successful debut.
In addition to the two things I already mentioned, Krzyzewski can slowly hand off more and more responsibilities to Scheyer to ensure he is fully prepared to fly the coop when Krzyzewski is no longer there after next season. There's not going to be the initial shock of Scheyer having all these unknown responsibilities thrown his way because at a minimum, he will have been able to mentally prepare for what life will be like as head coach.
I fully expect Krzyzewski to finish his career with a successful season, and maybe even that national championship exclamation mark, but if Krzyzewski is unable to get that sixth ring, he will still have ended his time as head coach giving the Blue Devil faithful one last thing they should be grateful for.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.