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More On Jai Lucas’ Move To Duke

North Carolina v Duke
It’s still early, but Duke’s Jon Scheyer, yet to coach a game, has a lot to smile about.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

We may learn more of the backstory soon, but Jon Scheyer’s pursuit of Kentucky assistant Jai Lucas was on the radar several weeks ago and about a week ago, he turned Duke down.

So what happened?

Well we’re not sure. As Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio pointed out on Twitter, Kentucky would surely have matched whatever Duke offered, and that that was “not a good look.”

Well, maybe.

Look, obviously for Kentucky fans, losing to Duke in any way is not good. We get that. But there might be other reasons why he decided to move to Durham. Tommy Amaker has always made his wife’s career - Stephanie Pinder-Amaker teaches at Harvard Medical School - a major factor in his moves. Frank McGuire took the South Carolina job partly because his son, Frank Jr., had special needs and he felt that those would be well-met in Columbia.

There could be other reasons too. Lucas, the son of ACC legend John Lucas, surely still has family in his father’s hometown. And in his gracious remarks about Lucas’ departure, Kentucky coach John Calipari told him he should do what’s best for his family.

So maybe it’s something like that.

Or maybe Lucas just decided that the idea of teaming up with Scheyer was too good to resist.

Scheyer has become an absurdly effective recruiter, putting together two freakish classes for Duke before he has even coached a game.

But he did all of that as an assistant coach and he won’t be able to do as much now that he’s the head coach.

Rated by some as the second best recruiter, behind only his new boss, Lucas may help to keep Duke’s recruiting at a fever pitch. And since Scheyer will be wearing a number of other hats from now on, getting the best assistant possible is a crucial part of that.

And this may be a part of it too: over the last several years, Duke has beaten UK out for players like Cam Reddish, JR Barrett, Zion Williamson, Dereck Lively and many others.

Predictably perhaps, CBS’s Matt Norlander, who we’ve said we think is really not fond of Duke Basketball, presumed that things would tilt back in Kentucky’s favor after Mike Krzyzewski announced his retirement:

“An understandable lookahead storyline to K’s retirement is “What will become of Duke?” But perhaps the more immediate — and consequential — question is: What will become of Kentucky? Calipari stands to be a bigger beneficiary of Krzyzewski’s retirement than anyone else...for Calipari, it always starts with recruiting. His greatest challenger is leaving....

“Scheyer will not be expected, nor should he, to keep the Blue Devils at the very top of the recruiting rankings — at least not immediately. With the landscape of recruiting set to change yet again, the coach most equipped to adapt is the one who always has. Calipari — detractors be damned — has made it his calling to sell his program, his university, his players, himself — all of it — and done it brilliantly with a salesman’s voice, a surgeon’s touch and an operative’s instinct...

“You could argue the best thing to happen to the winter of Krzyzewski’s career was Calipari going to Kentucky. And now, as Calipari approaches his mid-60s, Krzyzewski’s retirement could afford him a similar benefit. With K’s window closing, another door opens for Calipari to storm through. Seldom has there ever been an opportunity that Cal didn’t take advantage of to maximum ends. It is again an opportunity to stake claim to a title he’s held, if not been defined by, since revitalizing Kentucky basketball: College Basketball’s Greatest Recruiter.”

Norlander’s take, needless to say, has not aged well, because not only is Scheyer blowing everyone way in recruiting, he’s on a tear that may be unprecedented.

So maybe Smith’s intuition is correct: Lucas sees what is happening in Durham and wants to be part of it.

Then there’s this too.

Older coaches tend to get a bit stale. Consider Jim Boeheim, Gene Keady, Bob Knight among others.

It’s pretty normal for coaches to slide at the end because people have figured out how to deal with them and, generally speaking, they get set in their ways. You could argue that Mike Krzyzewski slid too, but in his case, if he did it wasn’t very much: he won national championships in 2010 and 2015 and nearly made the Final Four in 2018 and 2019, falling short in both cases at the very end. Duke also made the Elite Eight in 2013.

And of course he did make the Final Four this year, marking a nice comeback from Covid.

But it’s unusual. And the allure of what Scheyer appears to be building in Durham, and the patina of youth Duke’s new coach and his staff have (Lucas and Scheyer are quite close in age) may have also had something to do with it.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how this unfolds.