Among Duke Blue Devils fans, Coach K is understandably seen as a living legend. After all, he spent more than 40 years in Durham, won five NCAA titles and put the men’s basketball program on the map.
I understand that, and as my previous work will show you, I feel a personal affinity with Krzyzewski. The purpose of this post is not to be flippant about his legacy or prematurely put Jon Scheyer on his level. With that being said though, we need to talk about the new bench chief and how he has already gone beyond Coach K’s willingness to adapt.
While the former coach may not seem like the most modern guy — he was born in 1947 and educated at West Point — he’s shown a willingness to adapt over the years.
Consider, for example, the idea of players dropping out of college before graduation. It was a big story when Elton Brand decided to enter the 1999 NBA draft; as Deadspin noted in 2015, the big man even received emails from angry alumni expressing anger at him damaging the school’s legacy. While Krzyzewski didn’t seem to have much of a problem with the decision—in one of his many books, beyond basketballCoach K used Brand’s decision to go back to school his sophomore year and leave after that season as an example to “trust” his trust chapter—Duke still avoided players who had already done so.
Eventually, though, things changed. Kyrie Irving arrived on campus and left after a season cut short by injury. The likes of Jahlil Okafor and Brandon Ingram. More recently, Zion Williamson and Paolo Banchero made a one-year stopover in Durham.
Coach K, for all his apparent rigidity, adapted. He knew that if winning was the ultimate goal, he couldn’t ignore the best talent. Even though that strategy only yielded one championship, he kept the program among the NCAA’s elite.
“You have to keep trying to recruit the guys that you think would be good for Duke,” he said in a 2014 USA Today story. “If you really fall in love with a certain boy you want, whether he’s there for a year or four, really go after it and hope you catch it. We got some of the ones we really wanted.”
While recruiting single players is the most obvious example, there are many additional instances of Krzyzewski calling an audible or adjusting a plan. Longtime observers will note how he has largely calmed down over the years, at least to the extent that he ripped his jacket and berated officials. While only he knows if it was a tactical choice or an age-based evolution, he has changed. There have also been instances, from his early years at Duke or the 2022 NCAA Tournament, where he would adjust a defensive game plan in response to his players’ request.
Now, let’s compare this to Scheyer. While we have a limited sample size to work with, it looks like the new trainer is poised to do more than adapt: he’s ready to break new ground for himself and Duke.
So far, Scheyer’s main statements of intent have focused on the name, image, and likeness (NIL) space. After saying that he saw the new basketball landscape as an opportunity rather than a problem, he brought Rachel Baker to Durham as the program’s first general manager.
Yes, you read correctly. A university team now has a general manager. While this may upset those who cling to the notion of amateurism the wrong way, it does show that Scheyer is not going to sit idly by. If there is an opportunity to help the Blue Devils improve, in this case, actively using NIL money to their advantage, the new coach will seize it.
This willingness to push the boat out is especially impressive for a first-time coach and, perhaps more importantly for those in Durham, bodes well for the future of the program.
If you’re a longtime sports fan, you know that replacing a legendary coach can be a poisoned chalice. This replacement is often meant to do the dirty work of making changes and facing media scrutiny to clear platforms for a secondary successor.
Scheyer’s willingness to grab the bull by the horns and make legitimate program-altering decisions, however, suggests something different. Not only does he have the conviction to make those calls, but the university is prepared to support him. Looking at choosing to hire Baker, for example. Duke won’t fork out the (presumably) big change it took to bring her to campus if they thought Scheyer and his ideas would be consigned to the trash after a year.
On the surface, this might seem like a great show of faith in an unproven coach. With that being said, though, it also seemed unbelievable when Tom Butters handed Mike Krzyzewski a contract extension during the 1984 campaign. That move, of course, changed Duke Basketball’s history.
While there is still a long way to go, we can look at Scheyer’s nomination in the same way.
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