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'Feed off each other': The making of Jon Scheyer's first coaching staff

Jon Scheyer's first year as head coach will feature a revamped coaching staff.
Jon Scheyer's first year as head coach will feature a revamped coaching staff.

Mike Krzyzewski’s fingerprints will forever be all over the Duke men’s basketball program, but the reins are now in the hands of Jon Scheyer. 

As he has been preparing his team for its Nov. 7 tipoff against Jacksonville, Chris Carrawell, Amile Jefferson and Jai Lucas have been alongside him doing the same thing. The quartet makes up Duke’s official coaching staff for the first year of post-Krzyzewski basketball. 

“The staff chemistry has been great. Amile is new and has amazing energy. Jai is a great teacher, Chris is a great teacher as well,” Scheyer said. “They’re just great complements to one another and each of them in their own ways make me better every single day.” 

Scheyer had some work to do in order to assemble his current coaching staff. With his promotion and Nolan Smith’s departure, Duke had two vacant assistant-coach positions. He first went out and hired Mike Schrage as special assistant to the head coach. Schrage was most recently the head coach at Elon but was Duke’s director of basketball operations in the early 2000s. Schrage was a key hire for Scheyer, but both assistant-coach roles were still open.

His next move was promoting Jefferson to assistant coach. The former five-year letterman returned to Durham last season as director of player development and quickly made an impact working with the bigs on last year’s team. Scheyer’s elevation of Jefferson made him the second former Blue Devil on his staff alongside associate head coach Chris Carrawell, a trend that Krzyzewski rigorously followed for many years. 

Then Scheyer diverged from Krzyzewski’s path—he went outside of The Brotherhood to fill his final spot. 

At the end of April, Scheyer courted Jai Lucas away from head coach John Calipari at Kentucky and brought him on as an assistant coach. Lucas came to Durham with a well-established track record as a skilled recruiter—both former first-round NBA Draft choice TyTy Washington and projected 2023 lottery pick Cason Wallace were Lucas signees

As odd as it may sound, the 44-year-old Carrawell is the elder statesman on this year’s coaching staff. He jokingly calls himself the “OG” now that Krzyzewski is gone, and between Carrawell and the three other coaches, their average age is just 35.3 years old. 

Carrawell believes that the span of years between the youngest member (Jefferson at 29 years old) and himself gives plenty of unique ways to look at the game. The coaches in their 30s have their own perspective and Carrawell has his. 

“I think we kind of feed off each other,” Carrawell said. 

One perk of the staff’s youth is that their playing days are not so far behind them. Jefferson and Lucas still get into drills at practice, which can be a double-edged sword for the players. 

“Sometimes they lose to [Jefferson],” Carrawell said with a chuckle. 

Jefferson feels like he, as well as the three other coaches, are in a sweet spot in coaching. Their younger age allows them to remember the coaching tips that helped them as a player, but they are old enough to where none have the ego or desire to still be a player. 

Outside of the age angle, this year’s coaching staff has something that Krzyzewski’s hadn’t had for a while: fresh eyes. Lucas had no formal Duke connection, but he is familiar with the inner workings of a Blue Blood from his time with Calipari. In addition to that, he coached alongside Rick Barnes and Shaka Smart at Texas, all of which played into Scheyer’s decision to bring him on. The experience and new perspective was important to Scheyer in the hiring process, and he ultimately just felt Lucas was the right person for the role, regardless of if he was or wasn’t a former Blue Devil.

There’s not much of a hierarchy amongst Scheyer and his coaching staff. His name is of course preceded by “head coach,” but he wants all of his staff members to be comfortable speaking their mind.

None has a formal role with specific positions or players they have to work with either, but each has developed a specialty. Jefferson works heavily with the big men, something he got a shot at doing last season while Carrawell was on leave recovering from a knee surgery. The wings get tutelage from Carrawell, and Lucas has gravitated toward the guards, which lines up with his own position from his playing days. 

“I think the cool thing about our staff is we work in an ecosystem,” Jefferson said. That ecosystem allows for players like versatile freshman forward Mark Mitchell to work on different parts of his game with all the coaches instead of just one. 

Scheyer only officially had this last year to begin the planning process for his time as a head coach, but he had been preparing for it, knowingly or not, since at least his high school days. David Weber, Scheyer’s high school head coach, knew he had to watch the film immediately after their games because Scheyer would be ready to break the game down with him the next day. 

“He’d know exactly what part of the game we didn’t do something right,” Weber said. 

Weber’s sentiment is common. Since Scheyer’s announcement as head coach, many have spoken about his impressive basketball IQ. Carrawell described Scheyer’s innate ability to anticipate the other team’s next move as well as the way he sets up plays as two keys to why Scheyer will be successful. 

Scheyer has had the benefit of being under Krzyzewski’s wing since returning to Duke in 2013. The year in waiting helped Scheyer understand who he was and determine which values he wanted to instill when he officially took over. That has come across in preseason. 

The downside to being the protege of the winningest coach in college basketball history is that Scheyer has gigantic shoes to fill. As he figures out how he wants to do that, he understands the importance of being Jon Scheyer, and not trying to be Mike Krzyzewski. 

“He has that ability to know that he has to do things his own way but also trying to keep some of the stuff that has made Duke successful too,” Lucas said. 

Lucas’ observation is true about the overall construction of the coaching staff, too. It is unique in its assembly and has both pieces of Krzyzewski as well as Scheyer’s own flare. 

Just like this season will.

Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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