Nearly 11 months to the day after his introduction as Duke’s next head coach, Jon Scheyer spoke to the media Tuesday for the first time in his new role.
This time, it was his turn to make a few introductions of his own.
One day after officially putting the finishing touches on his revamped coaching staff, Scheyer sat down in front of the microphone in Cameron Indoor Stadium to ring in a new dawn for his program and to present each of the members of the Blue Devil bench. The long-awaited Scheyer era has officially arrived in Durham, and one thing is clear: Duke and Scheyer have everything, and more importantly everyone, that they need to succeed and to uphold the school’s winning traditions far into the future.
“I really feel it’s the best coaching staff you can have in college basketball,” Scheyer said. “The different perspectives that Mike [Schrage] and Jai [Lucas] bring along with Amile [Jefferson] and Chris [Carrawell] with the chemistry and cohesiveness that we’ve developed over this past year, and even more than that, is terrific.”
Duke’s staff looks a lot different than it did just a month ago, when the Blue Devils bowed out of the Final Four and Hall of Fame head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s career came to an end. Those differences go much deeper than the top job, though: Nearly every member of Scheyer’s staff is new to the program or has a new role within it, making for a strong sense of novelty within the walls of Cameron Indoor.
While Scheyer was tabbed as Krzyzewski’s successor more than a full season ago, the rest of Duke’s staff came together in April, beginning with former assistant coach Nolan Smith’s departure for Louisville. Smith’s decision was the first domino, with the Blue Devils subsequently bringing on former Elon head coach Mike Schrage as special assistant to the head coach, promoting Amile Jefferson to assistant coach and, most recently, hiring Kentucky’s Jai Lucas as assistant coach.
Scheyer is making quite the leap and clearly has a tough act to follow, but each of those additions—along with associate head coach Chris Carrawell—will be adjusting to a new role as Duke’s new skipper takes the wheel. Young and diverse in their experiences, they form a group that appears especially ready to tackle a challenging (and sometimes confusing) time in college basketball.
“Not only is it a new era of Duke basketball, but it’s really a new era of college basketball,” Scheyer said.
Everybody on the coaching staff is in a new situation in their own right, but perhaps none more than Lucas, whose hiring was made official Monday morning. At 33 and already one of the nation’s best-respected recruiters, he figures to pick up right where Scheyer and Smith left off on the recruiting trail. His hiring is unusual, though, simply in the sense that he brings something rare to Duke’s staff: an outside perspective. Despite his deep family roots in Durham, Lucas joins a short and long-vacated list of Blue Devil coaches to have never donned a Duke jersey.
“I think it’s just a testament to Coach Scheyer, and what he’s trying to do and what he’s trying to continue to grow in the program,” Lucas said of bringing an outside perspective to Duke.
On the other end of matters, Carrawell—the only coach to reprise his 2021-22 mantle—has seen his role change in a far less tangible way as the oldest of Duke’s four coaches and what Scheyer called his "rock." Scheyer chimed in during Carrawell’s time at the podium Tuesday, describing the 44-year-old as “somebody that you want in the trenches with you.”
Moments later, Carrawell shared his advice for Scheyer on the challenge of filling Krzyzewski’s shoes: “Be you.”
So far, Scheyer has done just that, setting himself up for success in the modern NCAA landscape by surrounding himself with the right people and by not overwriting a program that has, to this point, withstood the test of time.
“There’s obviously a lot of great things that we’re doing, like I said, the fact that we’re adjusting to our program without Coach K being the head coach and then with the change in college basketball,” Scheyer said. “The structure that we’ve had, you do need to adapt, you do need to adjust, but we want to be thoughtful about it.”
Elsewhere on Scheyer’s staff, Jefferson finds himself as a full-time coach less than a year after returning to Duke as director of player development and Schrage takes on a broad advisory role, saying Tuesday that his job for Scheyer entails “whatever he needs.” Through a captivating balance of change and continuation, there is a strong coaching identity brewing in Durham, one that fully embraces the program’s new dawn.
That dawn starts with the 2022-23 season, of course, with a roster that Scheyer is admittedly excited about. After the recent transfer additions of Kale Catchings and Ryan Young—Scheyer announced their signings in his opening statement Tuesday—most of that roster is set in stone. But Scheyer didn’t close the door on a potential return for freshman guard Trevor Keels, who declared for the NBA Draft in April.
“Any NBA team would be really lucky to have Trevor, and that’s the team we’re on,” Scheyer said. “We want what’s best for him, we’re right behind him every step of the way, but obviously we’re prepared and make sure whatever happens with that and we’re ready to go.”
As his first season and summer of preparation approaches, Scheyer—who laughed with, poked fun at and reminisced with his team for all to see—appears plenty comfortable at the helm and with the staff around him. If basketball really is about its relationships, as all five speakers hinted at Tuesday, then the Scheyer era would appear to be off to a very good start before it ever truly begins.
“I’ve been reflecting the last 11 months since I said yes, and found out I was going to be the next head coach, and I think my goal was from the beginning to think about October of ‘22, to feel like we’re in a position to pursue a national championship,” Scheyer said. “And I think we’re on our way there.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.