Jon Scheyer arrived at Duke in the summer of 2006 and departed four years later as the top scorer and passer on the Blue Devils’ 2010 national championship squad. The team poster from that season hangs on the wall behind his desk in the Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center adjacent to Cameron Indoor Stadium.DURHAM --
Moved to a playmaking role midway through his career, Scheyer finished third in school history in free throw percentage (.861), fourth in 3-pointers made (297), fifth in career ratio of assists to turnovers (2.09:1), eighth in steals (208) and tenth in scoring (2,077 points). The heady, unflappable 6-5 guard from Illinois played on a 2007 squad that was ousted in both its ACC and NCAA tournament openers. But the core group from the bitter disappointment of ’07 built each subsequent season to a better finish. Scheyer similarly advanced to elite status, earning ACC Tournament MVP honors as a junior and first team All-ACC and consensus second team All-America recognition as a senior.
Scheyer, a thoughtful history major with a playful grin, went on to a pro playing career cut short by an eye injury. He returned to the Duke program in 2013-14 as a special assistant to Mike Krzyzewski. When associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski took over the Marquette program in early April, the 26-year-old Scheyer moved into the role of fulltime assistant coach.
Jacobs: Did you ever think you would be a coach?
Scheyer: I always thought I’d be a coach. I just didn’t know if it would be at 45, 35, 25. It happened to be at 25. It was great learning at a young age, for me. I feel like I can relate to guys. There are advantages to being young and doing it. I’m trying to learn. I think that’s the biggest thing, knowing I can always get better. It’s a craft. I’m excited to be doing this.
Jacobs: What are the advantages of learning the craft while young?
Scheyer: I think experience is always a great thing to have on your side. By starting young, I don’t have that experience right now as a coach, but you’ll get that faster. You can be 35 and still be experienced. For me, that’s definitely an advantage. This is something that’s not like a math class where, all right, six times four is 24. Well, there are certain things where you use your judgment, it’s feel, and I think that’s where experience comes into play with how to deal with people, whether it be recruiting, coaching, all those things.
Jacobs: Which of those things was least expected, that you didn’t know?
Scheyer: I think as a player you don’t realize how much goes on behind the scenes. If you’re making a trip: All right, what time are we eating breakfast? What time are we going to the gym? Do we want to do a shoot-around? Just a walk-through? All these little decisions that you have to make — there’s a lot that goes into it and that’s something I never anticipated to the full extent. As a player you don’t think about those things.
Jacobs: What were your responsibilities last year?
Scheyer: Last year as a special assistant it’s a fine line between wanting to have your hand in everything and obviously there are limitations to your job as well. For me it was a big learning year. It was a year to just be a voice for the guys. If they needed somebody to come talk to, just be there for them. So those are the things I tried doing. I feel like now, after a year of being a special assistant, I have a better grasp on how to move forward as a coach whenever that is.
Jacobs: Who did you guys go talk to when you were a player?
Scheyer: When I was a player we had our assistants so we could go talk to any of them. But a guy who was kind of in a similar role to what I was in was Chris Carrawell. He couldn’t be on the court with us to practice and all of those things, but I would go to him, just talk to him. “What did you do as a player? What do you see with our team?” I would always just try to pick his brain because he was the ultimate winner to me — he was on some unbelievable teams here at Duke. So I hope that was a thing guys could do with me.
Jacobs: You had the credibility of being a national champion.
Scheyer: (Laughs) Counts for something.
Jacobs: You could be at practice, but your role was limited?
Scheyer: I just couldn’t be out on the court working with the players.
Jacobs: How much did you feel like a spectator?
Scheyer: You feel like a spectator. But at the same time I had my impact. Of course there’s only so much you can do when you’re watching instead of being on the court with the guys and showing them things. But, again, we have some great coaches here with Wojo, (Jeff) Capel, and Nate (James). I just tried to watch those guys and soak up everything I could from all of them so when it was my turn to be able to be on the court, as good as they are, you can do things differently or better, try to do it as good as they do. I tried watching and just soaking in as much as I could from those guys.
Jacobs: In huddles during a game, or pre-game planning meetings, how much did you get to speak your mind? And how intimidating was it at first, if at all, working with Coach K?
Scheyer: Coach was great with me from the beginning. I didn’t feel intimidated by him at all. We built up a great relationship when I was here as a player. After a few years of separation and coming back, it was great to be back with him. He was welcoming. He would ask me to give my input. That’s what he hired me for. There doesn’t a day go by that I don’t try to learn from him. So, for me, I speak my mind. Our staff, we just collaborate together, talk about things, and try to figure it out together.
Jacobs: Was there ever a time during a game where you said, “Let’s try this play?” and it happened?
Scheyer: Of course there’s little things that you suggest, but I think your first year, especially the role I was in, I was in more of a support role. I wasn’t calling plays or anything like that.
Jacobs: Is that something you look forward to doing, or do you figure it will come when it comes?
Scheyer: It’s just going to come natural for me. I know everything will come natural. I’ve no doubts I’ll be able to help in whatever role that might be. I’m ready to go whenever that comes.
Jacobs: Speaking of things coming natural, it was natural to be a player. What was the biggest adjustment to being a coach?
Scheyer: Not going and diving on a loose ball when it comes, when it comes over to you. There’s instincts you want to follow – make a shot, get a rebound, get a steal. You need to put all your energy into helping someone else do that. It’s different, how to give your energy off. That was weird for me at first, putting on a suit for a game instead of a uniform.
Jacobs: When someone didn’t dive for that loose ball, when they just tried to lean down and pick it up, was that frustrating? Did you want even more to go out there and dive on the loose ball?
Scheyer: Yeah. Everyone makes mistakes. I made mistakes as a player. It’s just trying to get the most out of the guys. I think it’s a challenge to do that, it’s fun to do that. Yeah, when a guy doesn’t dive on a loose ball, you’re like, “Come on, you’ve got to get it.” When they do dive on it it’s awesome, it’s an awesome feeling seeing guys improve throughout the season, doing things they haven’t done before. I think that was the most rewarding part for me, watching that process.
Jacobs: The way the season ended, getting knocked out in the NCAA opener, did that remind you of 2007?
Scheyer: Parts of it. Partly. Partly. It was not a good ending by any means. That’s not acceptable for our program. Our guys will learn from this, they’ll absolutely learn from this, and we’ll learn from this as a staff, I think. It’s not just our players — it’s our coaching staff, it’s our training staff, our support staff in general. Our managers. There’s things we can all do better. I think it’s just given us a great chance to look in the mirror, each and every one of us: “All right, how do we not let this happen again?”
Jacobs: After 2007, didn’t you really take the loss to heart?
Jacobs: You also got a scar over your eye as a result of a blow you took during the loss to VCU, so it was almost like an embodiment of the event. How did you experience it differently being that disappointed, if you can say, as a player rather than as a coach?
Scheyer: A player, you feel it physically. Of course I got cut open, what you’re talking about, in the last minute of that game. Had to get stitches on top of that. It was like kicking me when I was down. You get knocked out in the first round of the tournament playing at Duke, and then you have stitches on top of it. As a coach you feel a lot of hurt and all those things, but you feel for the guys, you feel for the guys too. I don’t want the guys to go through what I went through my first year, two years actually. That’s what I feel the most – feeling that made me think back to how I felt. More than anything I don’t want that for the guys. I want them to feel what I felt as a senior. That doesn’t come easy. You have to work your butts off for it, but I think that’s something we’re all prepared to do.
Jacobs: Being gone for four seasons, how was the ACC different?
Scheyer: Outside of the obvious, with Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh being in there, I think a little change of the guard. Carolina is always going to be good. When I was here Maryland, we competed for the top of the ACC my senior year. But it really hasn’t changed much. There are some coaching changes, but besides that you know teams, every team is going to be a dogfight. It was, just like before. Our conference is deep and I think it’s going to be even better in these next couple of years because teams were rebuilding a little bit and they’re getting a lot better.
Jacobs: Had Mike Krzyzewski changed at all over those years you were gone?
Scheyer: I think he’s always changing. That’s an amazing thing about Coach is he’s always adapting to his players. I don’t think he was the same guy when I came in as a freshman to when I left as a senior, and I don’t think he was the same guy that coached Jeff Capel (1994-97) that coached me and is now coaching these guys. That’s to his credit. I think he becomes better every year. No one’s going to work harder than him and no one cares more than he does. So he is different every year to me; that’s what makes him the greatest.
Jacobs: Is there anything specific that had changed?
Scheyer: Just with his approach with the guys. He’s always done this, but his approach with the guys isn’t the same for everybody. Working with the NBA guys gave him a different perspective. Just like anything, that changes your approach with your own team.
Jacobs: When you were a player did you realize how into the psychological side of things he was?
Scheyer: I did. I did know that as a player. I think he talks a lot about your mindset, being unselfish, all those traits that you would want to have.
Jacobs: Now, by being a guy the players can go to, aren’t you part of his tracking the team’s psyche?
Scheyer: Not only that, guys can connect in different ways. It’s not just Coach K reaching out to guys. We’re part of him. So trying to reach the guys and connect with them is a key thing.
Jacobs: And then don’t you communicate what’s going on with the team so he’s more in tune with where they are?
Jacobs: You were supposedly a coach on the floor when you were playing. Did the game look significantly different when you were not out there?
Scheyer: It looks a little different, it definitely does when you’re watching from the sideline. But at the end of the day it’s basketball and it’s the same thing as it was when I was a player. I still look at the game the same way. I feel like I’m more knowledgeable every year. I think going to training camps with NBA teams, playing summer league, playing in Europe gave me a different perspective. More knowledgeable, more experienced makes you better. Seeing strategies and games outside of Duke I think helped me, that’s really helped me.
Jacobs: So what kind of head coach would you be?
Scheyer: I don’t know if you know that until you are a head coach. For me it would depend on what university, what players. I think a lot goes into who you would be as a head coach. For me I would want whatever team I had, if I was a head coach, to play really hard and have a lot of fun playing the right way. I’ve always tried as a player to play the right way. And when I say the right way, I think basketball’s an unselfish game. You don’t give up on plays because, you turn the ball over, the best part about it is you would get the ball right back. Those are things that, really, Coach does so well. So if you could get your team to play close to what he’s gotten his teams to play it would be unbelievable.
Jacobs: How do you think your personality would manifest itself? Would you be soft-spoken? Would you be a hardass? How would you be most comfortable?
Scheyer: I guess you’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be me, whatever that is. As a player I think I was poised. We’ll have to see. You’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully, knock on wood, one day I’ll get a chance.