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Column: As an underappreciated part of an underappreciated title team, Jon Scheyer is Coach K's ideal successor

<p>Scheyer's playing career was filled with humps and bumps, but he ended on the mountaintop.</p>

Scheyer's playing career was filled with humps and bumps, but he ended on the mountaintop.

Hindsight is always 20-20, but we honestly should have seen this all coming.

Not Coach K’s announcement of a retirement tour. As recently as 2016, Krzyzewski said, “I don’t want a clock running out” when asked about how he would end his coaching career. By this, I mean Jon Scheyer being named as Coach K’s successor. 

Sure, Scheyer has sat next to Krzyzewski as an assistant since 2013, and an associate head coach since 2018. Sure, he has served as the lead recruiter for Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson and Paolo Banchero. But if you want the true reason why the 34-year-old is next in line to lead the Blue Devils, you should look into when he donned a Duke jersey. Scheyer’s playing career, well, that is what truly tells the story. Let’s rewind.

Heading into the 2010 NCAA tournament, Kentucky dominated all the headlines. John Wall! Demarcus Cousins! Calipari! One and done! The Wildcats had the “it” factor, and there was seemingly no end in sight. Kansas got some love too, including from President Barack Obama, but one program was left out of some of the pre-tournament buzz.

That program, the No. 1 seed in the South Region, was Duke. I’m not trying to make this into some sort of plucky underdog story—the Blue Devils went 26-5 in the regular season, had five ranked wins and captured the ACC tournament title. But as college basketball moved into an era that became defined by flash, Duke did not quite look the part.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, could have called that group flashy. Grant Hill gliding down the court, Jay Williams breaking ankles, JJ Redick nailing triples left and right—that is flashy. Krzyzewski was obviously no stranger to some pizazz, but that 2010 unit was distinctly gritty, and it rode that grit all the way to a jubilant celebration in Indy.

Those Blue Devils won via half-court execution, clutch shooting when they needed it most and hustle. Lots of hustle. Charges, loose balls, deflections, the whole shabang. 

Despite some imperfections—Duke shot its lowest percentage from the field in any season over the last 20 in 2010 and did not have a single lottery pick on the roster—once Gordon Hayward’s near-miracle bounded to the hardwood floor, none of those imperfections truly mattered. Krzyzewski had his fourth ring, and a group that had been through the ringer over the preceding four years had scaled Everest.

The poster boy for that group, the guy who had been through it all alongside Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas, was Scheyer. During the Chicago native’s time as Krzyzewski’s floor general, Duke went from 22-11 to 28-6 to 30-7 to 35-5. From four straight ACC losses in February 2007, three straight losses to Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium, to that 61-59 victory against Butler. How’s that for a rollercoaster?

Even amongst the other members of that proverbial “Big Three”, Scheyer was underappreciated. He was not the Final Four MOP, as that honor went to Kyle Singler. He was not the South Region MOP, as that honor went to Nolan Smith. He was not even the MVP of the ACC tournament, despite clinching the crown with a dagger over Georgia Tech’s Glen Rice Jr. in the final. 

Yet he ended his four seasons in the program’s top-10 in points, steals and 3-pointers made. Krzyzewski moved Scheyer to point guard during his junior year, and the offense truly hummed thanks to the former McDonald’s All-American’s playmaking and reliability. His value to the program was without question, and he embodied that tough, overachieving team to the letter. 

Of Krzyzewski’s five championships, 2010 might get lost to history. It’s certainly tough to stack up to upsetting UNLV, The Shot, a 22-point comeback against Maryland in the Final Four or the Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen show against Wisconsin. 

But considering the nine-year drought since his last title, the struggles in between and just how memorable that final victory was, it could—and this is just opinion—be the one that Coach K values the most.

And Scheyer, at the end of the day, was that team’s defining player. So in hindsight, maybe we should have seen this coming.

Editor's note: This article is part of The Chronicle's Coach K Commemorative edition. Please click here for more content. 

Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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