Now, the obvious first question is what will happen to the Duke men’s basketball empire long-term. Under Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils not only became known as one of the college basketball blue bloods, but perhaps the biggest brand in college sports. However, they’re also the only school out of those blue bloods to win all of their national championships under one head coach.
Will Scheyer be able to keep the empire rolling, like what Kansas has done since the early 20th century? Or will Duke fall off, similarly to Indiana post-Bob Knight? The answer is we don’t know. People can predict all they want, but we simply have no idea right now what Duke men’s basketball will look like in five years and beyond.
However, we do know one thing—there’s one aspect that’s most important in keeping the Duke men’s basketball empire alive. In fact, it all comes down to one word: culture. And it’s why I believe Scheyer is the best man for this job.
The importance of that word—culture—cannot be overstated. When Nolan Smith was promoted to assistant coach in April, he said the biggest quality he’d learned under Krzyzewski that he hoped to carry into his time as a coach was “the way [Krzyzewski has] created a culture and sustained a culture for so long.” During Wednesday’s official release announcing his impending retirement and Scheyer’s impending promotion, Krzyzewski said that “the continuation of our culture at Duke is paramount to future success. That is why I am so grateful that President Vincent Price, Kevin White and Nina King determined that Jon Scheyer represents our best path forward.”
Scheyer knows the culture of Duke men’s basketball, from both his time as a player and an assistant coach. Let’s start with the former.
When Scheyer came to Durham as a freshman in the summer of 2006, Duke was at a crossroads. It had just completed a run of nine consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances, including three Final Fours, transitioning perfectly between the Brand/Langdon tandem of the late ‘90s to Battier/Jason Williams in the early 2000s and Redick/Shelden Williams in the years that followed.
But during that 2006-07 campaign, the Blue Devils didn’t have those kinds of players to step up, lumping to an 8-8 conference record before getting ousted in the first round of both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Thus, they found themselves focused on the long term, building on Scheyer’s recruiting class as well as the class that followed them.
Each season, Duke’s record improved. Each year, the Blue Devils advanced further in the NCAA tournament. And in 2010, Duke capped it off with a national title, with Scheyer there every step of the way while developing into a National Player of the Year candidate. Sure, it may have been fun for him to jump straight onto a national title contender his freshman campaign. But instead, he spent four slow years learning the experience, skills and culture necessary to become a champion.
Scheyer’s also been able to develop those skills a few spots down the Duke bench, albeit in a slightly different way.
As a member of the Duke staff since the 2013-14 season, the Chicago native has been a part of star-studded Blue Devil squads that embraced the culture necessary to be title contenders, and one that even brought home a championship. He’s also been a part of teams that fell short of expectations, learning firsthand along the way what works and what doesn’t. Now, it’s obviously not nearly as simple as I just made it out to be, but all of this is just to say that Scheyer has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal.
Of course, the biggest knock on Scheyer is his lack of experience leading a program on his own. It’ll be what critics point to now and what they point to when he takes over next April.
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But when it comes to the Duke men’s basketball empire that Krzyzewski has built, it’s all about the culture. For four years as a player and eight as an assistant, Scheyer learned that culture better than anyone. And after all that, Krzyzewski felt that his 2010 captain was the best man to succeed him.
We should too.