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Column: Jon Scheyer's first recruiting class has the potential for an iconic legacy

Head-coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer currently holds the No. 1 recruiting class for the class of 2022.
Head-coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer currently holds the No. 1 recruiting class for the class of 2022.

It was natural to assume that Coach K’s retirement would put a damper on Duke’s recruiting prowess for at least the near future.

Yes, Jon Scheyer proved himself to be an elite recruiter before he became the Blue Devils’ head-coach-in-waiting, serving as the lead assistant in bringing Zion Williamson, Paolo Banchero, Jayson Tatum and more to Durham. But throughout all those recruiting victories, Scheyer still had Krzyzewski’s five national championship rings in his back pocket. He was still able to say that they’d be playing for the winningest head coach in college basketball history.

That luxury is gone. And yet, the Duke recruiting train has continued to storm on.

Scheyer had already landed four-star sharpshooter Jaden Schutt, No. 10 overall recruit Kyle Filipowski and No. 5 overall recruit Dariq Whitehead in his Class of 2022, as well as 2023 five-star Caleb Foster, heading into this week. And then on Monday he reeled in his biggest fish yet, beating out Kentucky head coach John Calipari for the services of No. 2 overall 2022 recruit Dereck Lively.

Lively’s commitment pushed Duke’s 2022 class to No. 1 in the country—if it stays there, it would be the Blue Devils’ first No. 1 recruiting class since the Williamson-R.J. Barrett-Cam Reddish-Tre Jones-Joey Baker quintet of 2018-19.

So, how is Scheyer doing it? How in a span of two months has he constructed perhaps the best recruiting class for a rookie head coach the sport has ever seen?

It’s impossible to know for sure. Perhaps Krzyzewski, with Scheyer’s help, truly built Duke into a brand that transcends the head coach on the sideline. Perhaps Scheyer’s experience on the court for one Blue Devil championship, and on the sideline for another, helped. Perhaps it’s a mix of both of those reasons, and more. Unless you can read minds, nobody has any idea why exactly these kids are choosing Duke.

But I can tell you this—Lively, Whitehead, Filipowski and company are building a legacy that goes beyond having the best recruiting class in the nation, a legacy that might even go beyond whatever success they have on the floor together. They’re the group that’s initializing the new era of Duke men’s basketball, the one that’s bridging the gap between Krzyzewski and Scheyer and confirming to the world that this program is here to stay.

Many feared (or hoped, or simply projected, depending on where your fandom aligns) that without Krzyzewski, Duke would become just like post-Bob Knight Indiana. The Hoosiers enjoyed the final few years of Knight’s recruits after firing him, and then quickly fell into mediocrity. What Indiana was missing, however, was a class like the one Scheyer is set to bring in next fall. 

Yes, it’ll be the Blue Devils’ performance on the court that truly creates the momentum necessary for Duke to remain a blue blood into the foreseeable future. And yes, we’re still more than a year from seeing Scheyer’s first class grace the Cameron Indoor Stadium hardwood together.

But in college basketball, constructing that recruiting class comes first. 

Back in the early 1980s when Krzyzewski was on the cusp of potentially losing his job in Durham, he altered his approach to recruiting en route to a Class of 1982 that included Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, David Henderson and Weldon Williams. They became known as “The Class That Saved Coach K.”

The Class of 2022 has the potential to become the one that launched Jon Scheyer.

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