One On One With Jon Scheyer

We sit down with former player turned assistant coach Jon Scheyer to look back on his journey to and through the Duke program as a player while also looking ahead to the upcoming season.

First thing I wanted to ask you Jon was did you ever imagine that you were going to both play for and coach with Coach K?

Jon Scheyer:  You know it’s funny when I was a young kid, I never would have thought about playing and coaching for him. It’s really incredible to think about where I’m at right now, I never would have imagined that a dream like this would have actually come true. The fact that I’m here doing it is amazing.  If you would have asked my 12 year old self years ago if I would be here doing this at this age, I think he would say no way. I’m blessed to be where I’m at, no question about it.

Was 12 years old when you first started getting interested in Duke?

You know I think I always had an admiration for Duke. I literally remember when I was seven years old getting a video cassette of the NCAA Tournament and I’ll never forget that.  That was actually Jeff Capel’s year when he was a freshman and, obviously, Grant Hill.  I’ll never forget that I then started wearing my shorts shorter and having the Spandex come down lower than my shorts because that was the cool look done by Grant Hill. That’s when I first started loving the Duke team and that’s when I was old enough to really know about sports, so I remember when I was five years old watching Christian Laettner and I brought my mom down in the basement and my dad down there.  My dad was Grant Hill, I was Christian Laettner and my mom was the Kentucky defense and I probably made that shot in my basement like 100 times. So when I was a young kid I always loved Duke and had an admiration for it, and I still went through my recruiting process very open-minded but at the end of the day as I went through that process and hearing Coach K’s vision for me, the decision for me, it was an easy decision.

Was the family as big of Duke fans as you were?

They were great about it.  I went through a stage where Duke was winning so much and you want to try and be different, so you are rooting for other teams.  So Seton Hall was my favorite team for a few years with Eddie Griffin and Andre Barrett and Lane and all those guys, then all my friends loved Illinois and Duke, so when Duke came back into the picture with me, I always had so much respect for them and my family just supported me. They didn’t try to guide me one way or the other, they offered an opinion if I asked for it and I really looked to both my mom and dad through the process and once I told them that I wanted to go to Duke, they were ecstatic and on-board for it.

So there’s being a fan of Duke growing up and then there’s actually coming to know that Duke is the place where you want to go play and be a student-athlete.  What led you to start feeling that Duke was where you really wanted to go?

Yeah, absolutely. For me, I think I knew that Coach really, truly loved me as a player and fortunately for me I had some of my best games in front of him. I remember after my freshman year going up into my sophomore year, I was playing up on the 17 and under circuit and I was at Peach Jam and I remember that it was kind of a coming out party for me. And so I felt like he was genuinely really excited about me and that’s something I think was important because I felt like hey, he really likes me as a player.

I remember all the discussion about you and Chris Collins in regards to you being at Duke and just the relationship there, how did you feel about all that discussion knowing you guys went to the same high school and college?

I remember watching Chris play, he was a guy who really got it started at Glenbrook North. He’s a legend and I know his dad, I know his family. So for me, Chris told me, he was the first guy I talked to and he would always talk with me about his battles against Deerfield and Highland Park back in the day and he knew who I was playing every night, so that was just very cool for me and we wouldn’t even necessarily talk about recruiting all that much. We would just talk hoops and basketball and baseball, so from that aspect it was incredible because when you come from the same area, we really just hit it off. So for me it was great and I loved every bit of it when I talked with Chris.

So, and be honest, when you were in position to break some of his high school records, how much of a motivating factor was that?

I think I called him after every record that I got, haha.  I don’t know if I can get ever past it, but the one record that he always had was the most points scored in a single game and he had 54 and I think I was playing in a Christmas Tournament.  I had already committed, and it was my senior year and Coach K and Chris came to watch me play.  I had 31 points and we were down by 13 with about a minute and fifteen left. I scored 21 in the next 55 seconds, no, I’m sorry, yeah 65 seconds.  So I’m at 52, 2 points away from his record and we’re down 4 points and I’m bringing the ball down the floor and I spin, and the referee calls me for an offensive foul and so I ended up fouling out the next play and so instead of shooting 2 free throws to tie his record, we’re obviously going to lose and Coach K calls me after the game and apologized and then he ended up saying, “I don’t know why, everybody in the gym thought it was a bad call and they were upset, but Chris Collins had his hands up in the air like he had just won a championship, so I don’t understand that,haha.” I don’t know if he’ll ever let me live that one down, especially since it happened in front of him, haha.

You mentioned Coach K. Every guy in this series has mentioned things that Coach K said to them during the recruiting process that were impactful for them. What do you remember along those lines?

You know for me, I think it was his honesty that stood out to me. His openness was very appealing to me and also, he didn’t just tell you what you wanted to hear and so for me, he said in my recruitment that he felt that I should be a guy that would be a leader on this team, a captain at some point and that I could be a really great guard on a national championship team. So with that, he also told me that I had a lot to work on, that I needed to get a lot stronger and I had a long way to go. He wasn’t just telling me that I’m greatest thing and that I’m going to be the greatest thing and the work that goes into it. So his honesty and really everything he said turned out to be true, so for me, that’s what stood out to me when he recruited me.

Then get to Duke and you are going through the same transition that any freshman who is a Duke student-athlete is going through, what do you remember about that transition with all the guys you were coming in with as underclassmen?

Yeah for me it’s a lot of work that you have to put in and it’s just at a whole different level. You can’t even prepare for it until you are actually going through it. I’ll never forget that first summer, I didn’t even gain weight, I actually lost weight because we were running so much to prepare for the season. That summer for me was a good learning experience on how to handle things a little bit better and for me, one unique thing my freshman year was we didn’t really have upperclassmen leadership and that was the first time in a long time at Duke with multiple upperclassmen who were leading. DeMarcus (Nelson) was definitely trying to carry the load himself with that and we were just a really young team and you are kinda learning on the fly and learning while you are playing which is great if you have the right attitude about it. So I really learned a lot that first year.

Like what?

You know I think there’s a part of you that thinks that when you come to Duke it’s just going to happen, but then you lose your first two conference games, then all of a sudden you go to Virginia and you lose to them in overtime when we had them up 7 with a couple minutes left and we let it slip away. Then against Florida State we lose at home and we just miss a tip in at the buzzer and we just had those heart-breaker games and I think there’s a little bit of you that loses confidence and obviously we still did a good job at staying together, but you are trying to figure it out when you don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen and you are making sense of what it really takes to win in college. So it was a tough year going through that for the first time.

It was interesting watching your group and then the Kyle and Nolan group come in and you guys start growing as players and winning together, what was that like for you guys as a team as you were becoming upperclassmen?

Oh yeah absolutely. For us I felt like, to be honest with you, 22-11 was a good year for us but we know that’s not what we came to do Duke to do.  For us…we were so determined to not let that happen again and that started our sophomore year and we got a lot better and look, our junior and senior years, we won over 30 games, Sweet 16s, multiple ACC Championships and the National Championship, so I think all that played into that first year and how that went.

So do you think it was the losing and just the growth experiences that freshman year that really drove who you guys became as a team as upperclassmen, or do you think there were other experiences that spurred the national championship win and those things?

Yeah, it really made us tougher to be honest, I think when it’s all said and done the toughness that we had was built from the failure you know? You hate to lose, you hate to lose the way that we did, but we figured it out and our will to win was a big reason why we won so many games those last two years and then the national championship.

What was it like for you in the midst of that of seeing Gerald (Henderson) go pro after your junior years?

Yeah I was so happy for G. I remember him asking me after his junior year, “what do you think I should do ?” I remember talking with him about it and really I look back at it and I laugh about it because he already knew what he was doing so I gave him a hard time.  When I told him I don’t know why he was asking me when you already know what you were going to do. I wanted what was best for him and of course you love playing together, but he was a lottery pick and obviously we won a national championship the next year. And you know, he was the first person to congratulate me was him and me vice versa. He’s my best friend to this day and I’m happy for the career that he’s had and it’s worked out for us both except I would never be his roommate again. He’s not the best roommate I would say that, haha.

I'm assuming you’re claiming to be the neater one?

Haha, he’s a little anal about some things.  And he likes his room at about 75 degrees and I like mine at about 68, 69 degrees, so we’re a little different there.

I remember interviewing Chris Carrawell for this series and he talked about the leadership example that he and Nate James and Shane Battier wanted to set when the class including Mike Dunleavy and Jay Williams and Carlos Boozer was coming in…I wanted to go back to that summer going into your senior year and ask what was the vision for you guys as upperclassmen with how you wanted to lead that team? How did you go about getting ready for that season?

Well, we knew we had lost a lot and losing G was a big thing for us, Elliot Williams had played great that year and then he ended up going home to be closer to his mom.  So, for us, we knew we didn’t have a lot of perimeter guys coming back and Kyle was going to slide down and we knew we had some really good pieces inside with Lance and Zoubs and the Plumlees, so our biggest thing was just becoming so together as a team. We already knew we could do it, we had a good taste of success at the end of our junior year, and once we found out that Andre Dawkins was coming, we really brought him with us as quickly as possible and we really formed a very tight team. We really tried to play everyday because we didn’t have the deepest team necessarily, but we ended up having a really solid rotation and having four big guys that could play which was a huge strength for us because we had one of the best rebounding teams ever at Duke that year, if not the best.

When you have that many good leaders on that team your senior year, what do you remember about how you personally wanted to approach being a leader on that team?

For me, it was all about winning and it really was. I wanted to set a tone that it wasn’t about how many points you scored, it wasn’t about how many assists or steals, it was about winning. At the end of the day I don’t know if I could have looked at myself as walking away from Duke without having won a national championship and so, I think that carried throughout with the rest of our guys. I think what was so special about that group, no one cared about their individual accolades or statistics, it was just about winning. I think that’s something that’s hard to find these days and I think it’s what made us unique.

What were the defining moments of that season aside from obviously winning the national championship?

I remember two moments I’ll give you. One moment was Zoubek and his emergence against Maryland at home. He had a heck of a game and he just made a big statement that I’m here and I’m not going away and he was arguably the best center in the country from that point on.  The other time was when we played Georgetown and we lost. We actually played in front of President Obama in front of the amazing crowd there, but when we played there, it was a little bit too much one-on-one and it made us get back to who we were and who we had to be. So after that game, I think we went 22 and 1 after that and that made us get a lot better after that tough loss at Georgetown. That game was huge for us.

Then you do the run through the ACC Championship and then you go to the Big Dance and do that run, so what for you are the biggest memories from that run?

I think for me during that tournament run, that Baylor game I will always look back on because we knew how big a test it was and everybody had us losing that game. It was in Houston, of course Baylor is from Texas and we’re down four in the game and it was just about making plays and down the stretch, really pulling it through, I think our first couple years, maybe we lose that game. So us knowing what we needed to do to win that game, that was a big hurdle for us that we got through.

What was the mood around the team on the day of the Butler game?

For me, Mason Plumlee was my roommate and I don’t think we hardly slept the night before, I think we were anxious and as excited as could be, and we were just looking forward to it. I think for me, I always dreamed about playing in the national championship game, that was #1 on my list of goals that I wanted. So it was a dream come true and I was so ready to play in that game. The memory I have from the game was with 10 seconds to go, we’re up 1 and Butler is taking the ball out of bounds under out of bounds under their own basket. We always that year because we had a big group, we would switch everything and I remember them setting up a play and if you go back and watch that play, none of us switched, we just refused to get screened and it’s funny because we never did that that whole year. They actually had to call timeout because they weren’t able to throw it in and we ended up getting a stop the next play and then Zoubs get the rebound, but the possession before where we ended up not switching was really funny looking back because we had never done that that year.

In talking with guys in this series who won national championships, they all had their memories from after winning.  What are some of your best memories?

I remember being so tired. Playing Butler man, they were just such a tough, physical team. I saw Ronald Nored I think last summer and I wanted to almost punch him because he was such a pain in the butt to play against. Great guy and we had a great conversation, but he was such a pain in the butt to play against, I give him a lot of credit. And that was their whole team and obviously they were very talented, but I was tired after the game and of course I was excited, but it really doesn’t hit you that you won until a day or two later. It was great though.

After that you graduate and you are on to your pro career. What do you remember about the pre-draft process and getting your start playing professionally?

Yeah for me it’s funny how things work out. I had never missed a practice or a game in my life from high school on. Not a practice and the same thing at Duke, not a one. Then I leave Duke and I start going through the pre-draft process and I get mono, it was a tough break because I had gained some weight and I ended up losing about 15 pounds which was tough. Then I finally got healthy and I felt like I was playing my best basketball, I went back to the Heat for Summer League and I had an eye injury that really changed my career. I lost a lot of vision in my right eye and I was just determined to play again. I’m very proud of the career that I had, I went to play with the Los Angeles Clippers, probably too early but I had a great learning experience with them. I played in the D-League and then I played at a high level in Israel and in Spain, so I’m very proud of the career that I had although look, I think everybody would want to have a long career in the NBA and unfortunately I had an eye injury that changed that for me because I really believe that I’m where I’m supposed to be by being back at Duke.

When did you get to the point where you kinda knew that it was time to transition out of playing and get into something else?  How did you deal with that?

Well it’s tough.  That’s the toughest transition that you go through. It got to a certain point where my heart was really in coaching, I knew that I wanted to coach at some point, it was just a matter of when and I always thought it could be at 25 or 35 or 45 when I started and it turned out to be 25. The great part of it is I have a great start, I’m young and I’m still young at 28 and I can relate to what these guys are going through. I still love to play, I still play to this day, and it couldn’t be a better situation for me to be in.

What do you remember of your first steps of coaching at Duke and starting that learning process?

Yeah, I never understood how much there was behind the scenes. That I think was incredible when you talk about planning, thinking, we think about our guys all the time. Like I never knew with Chris Collins and Wojo and Coach K just the amount of time that they put in just thinking about us. That’s something that I’ve done more and more of each year. I think that says a lot about the coaches here at Duke and how much we care about these guys.

How have you handled learning the recruiting ropes and relationship-building in that arena?

Oh yeah, recruiting is a different animal but relationship building is something that comes very natural to me because I’m always just going to be myself. So that’s been a real fun part is doing that, I’ve actually dealt with amazing people, I’ve had great experiences talking to them. Look, we really recruit special people and for me I love talking to the parents and to the kids and it’s been a great experience for me.

What do you remember about the first time you were going to do an in-home visit? What was going through your mind as you prepared to present in that kind of setting for the first time?

I remember the first time I went on the road, it was to go see Luke Kennard and I had known about Luke for sometime because he had when I was a player actually tried to come and work out with me. He had reached out but it ended up not working out that time.  But when I had first gone to see Luke I saw another kid that day across the court and just watching him from afar I knew I had to go see him and so I went over to see this other kid later in the afternoon.  That kid was Jayson Tatum. He was going to be a sophomore and that was the first time I had saw him, so seeing Luke and Jayson that  day was a pretty good first day out on the road.   I knew that Jayson was a guy…we knew we already wanted Luke, but watching Jayson, I don’t think it took a genius to figure out that he was going to be a guy that we needed to be recruiting and go after. So that was a special first day for me. I know that’s an in-home visit story per se, but that was a really cool first day for me out on the road.

It’s interesting because now you’ve coached Luke and you are going to be coaching Jayson and Frank and the rest of the group coming in, what’s that like for you coaching those guys that you helped in part recruit to Duke?

It’s special, I know the relationship that I had with Chris from beginning to end in the recruiting process and throughout and obviously Coach K is the main one with all of them. I’ve seen Jeff Capel have some special relationships with guys he’s helped recruit. The cool thing for us with myself, Coach James, Coach Capel, we all recruit these guys  and we all add onto what Coach is primarily doing with these guys and really, we’re a team, it’s not like one of us has one guy, we all work together on it. That’s special the way we do that.

I’ve always been curious about that dynamic.  How would you describe how you guys handle emphasizing what each of you guys as coaches emphasize in those recruiting processes?  Do you have a plan along those lines, or do you each of you just kinda naturally talk about different things when you are all recruiting a player?

I think the biggest thing is we’re in communication not to…we always know what each of us is doing because we never want to overwhelm a kid, and we always try to be on the same page which I think we do a great job at.  For us it’s not like we have a set plan that we’re going to talk with this kid this way, we just say what we feel and if we feel like we have something to share with a kid, we just call them or text them and tell them what we’re thinking.  It comes very naturally for us, and we’re not pitching any kind of sales pitch, we are who we are and I think you either love us or you don’t, and we’re ok with that.

Aside from recruiting there’s obviously the coaching aspect of what you are doing - how would you describe how you have approached being a coach to these guys?

For me I just try, as simple as it sounds, whatever I see, I follow my gut and my instincts and I coach guys. I think they know that I can play, so I’ve had to do a little bit of a different way sometimes, but I’ve always just tried to pass on my knowledge of the game and you know, we really bring in coachable guys and whatever it is, they respond really well to us coaching them and they are just guys who want to get better.

What are you most looking forward to about working with this new group of you guys that you will have for this season?

I think first and foremost the fact that we have some veteran returning guys that have been through the wars before and have a national championship under their belts.  They know what to expect, and it is great to have that.  Then we have some younger guys who are coming off good seasons but have a lot to build on with Luke and Chase and Antonio and then of course we’re excited about the class we have coming in, so that combination of all those guys with experience and then the young guys, it’s going to be really cool to see how it works.  We’re really looking forward to it, it’s a versatile team, a fun team and we should be a great defensive team. That has to be our mentality from the beginning to end. I think it’s too early how we’re blending as a team, I think the summer is about individual improvement, working on guys bodies, getting to know them better, getting them comfortable on campus, those are all the things we try to establish, especially early in the summer.

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