With Duke’s season over at the hands of Tennessee Saturday, it’s time to look back at Jon Scheyer’s first season and see how he did and how the Transition has gone.
Here are the Duke coaches since 1928, or the last 95 years, and their first seasons.
- Eddie Cameron: 12-8 10th place (Southern Conference)
- Gerry Gerard: 20-6 (Southern Conference)
- Harold Bradley: 20-13 (Southern Conference)
- Vic Bubas: 17-11 (ACC) Elite Eight
- Bucky Waters: (ACC) 17-9 NIT
- Neil McGeachy: (ACC) 10-16
- Bill Foster: 13-13 (ACC)
- Mike Krzyzewski: 17-13: (ACC) NIT
- Jon Scheyer: 27-8 (ACC) Round of 32
Scheyer is way ahead of anyone in terms of wins (although part of that is that more games are scheduled today) and really only Vic Bubas is comparable since he won the ACC Tournament and made it to the Elite Eight in his first year. However, that’s better than it sounds since it was only a 25-team tournament and Bubas finished 2-1. And Bubas’s 1960 record was 17-11. Six of those games were in the post-season, three in the ACC and three in the NCAA.
Bucky Waters got to the NIT in his first season when the ACC got just one NCAA bid and the NIT was still a big deal. Like Scheyer, he also had to follow a legend.
McGeachy was a good man but he was an interim coach without much chance of success.
Foster’s first season was 13-13.
Coach K’s first year was 17-13 and Duke made the NIT but Gene Banks was injured, limiting Duke’s post-season prospects.
Scheyer finishes 27-8. Like Bubas, he won the ACC Tournament in his first season and was 1-1 in the NCAA tournament. He finished third in the ACC and if the officials hadn't blown the last call at Virginia, Duke had a great shot at a share of first place.
For a while at least, Scheyer will be compared with UNC’s Hubert Davis, which is natural because of the intensity of that rivalry and because they started just a season apart. Davis inherited a solid roster from Roy Williams; Scheyer inherited Jeremy Roach, Jaylen Blakes and walk-ons Stanley Borden and Spencer Hubbard from Krzyzewski.
It wasn’t as bad as it could have been because Scheyer recruited brilliantly, bringing in a class with Kyle Filipowski, Dereck Lively, Dariq Whitehead, Mark Mitchell, Tyrese Proctor, Christian Reeves and Jaden Schutt. He also brought in four transfers - Ryan Young, Jacob Grandison, Kale Catchings and Max Johns, completely restructuring the roster.
The next class was also finished well ahead of schedule and is also highly regarded.
So you can certainly make the case that Scheyer had the best first year any Duke coach has ever had with only Bubas as possible rival.
What about the ACC?
Everett Case broke in in the Southern Conference and finished 26-5, but that wasn’t the ACC.
Roy Williams? 19-11. Lefty Driesell? 13-13. Terry Holland? 12-13. Jeff Jones, who inherited a healthy Virginia program from Holland? 21-12.
The best first-season ever by an ACC coach was last year’s debut by Davis as his team made it to the national championship game, finishing 29-10. It’s worth mentioning that before UNC heated up late, there was a lot of discontent with Davis and much more so this year after the Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA Tournament and declined an NIT bid.
But Davis inherited four starters. Scheyer inherited one. And Whitehead had a significant injury in the preseason that set him back while Lively had one of his own.
When Duke was fully healthy, the Blue Devils lost just one game. And in our opinion, you could see Scheyer growing into his job almost game by game. Part of the season was defined by freshmen struggles - but also defined by how Scheyer addressed those struggles.
He also finished his first season undefeated in Cameron and with an ACC Championship.
You look at Dereck Lively in early December and Lively today and he’s not the same player at all. That’s true for Filipowski, Whitehead, Mitchell and most of all Proctor.
You may remember that Proctor was behind due to competing with the Australian National Team, the Boomers. He found his stride and confidence eventually and emerged as a truly superb point guard for the Blue Devils. Scheyer did a great job developing young players.
When Scheyer took over, he was, inevitably, compared to Coach K. Interestingly, he said he welcomed it: “bring it on.”
But as K himself said, his successor is not following anybody he’s setting his own course. Year I of the Scheyer era saw some struggles to be sure. But you kind of see where he’s going.
We’ve said before that Duke and UNC tend to dog, shadow and parallel one another. We see it again in this way: Davis talked a lot about “modernizing” UNC’s system and that has been a real struggle with the players he inherited.
Scheyer has been more oblique about his plans but with the players he has pursued, you can get an idea of where he’s going.
He’s already proven to be a superb defensive coach. And as a guy who was an outstanding shooter and an unusually heady player, you can expect him to build very smart teams - and ones that shoot well.
Experience limited how smart this team would be this year and he hasn’t brought in immense shooting talent yet, although Whitehead was a pleasant late-season surprise.
Down the road though he’ll have guys to work with like Jaden Schutt, Sean Stewart, Jared McCain, Caleb Foster, TJ Power and Darren Harris. And when he does, you won’t be able to clog the middle against Duke like Tennessee did Saturday, because two or three guys on the court will make you pay.
In short, Scheyer’s first season was extraordinary and the future is very bright indeed. We only had one real concern and it may be just us but here goes.
He shows more anxiety and fear than Krzyzewski did. When Duke was struggling, he looked seriously down at times.
Coach K disciplined his bench persona immensely in the later part of his career and while he obviously felt strong emotions during games, the only one he really showed was anger or, occasionally, humor. He saw himself as a leader obviously and as such, he tried to always maintain a strong, reliable presence. He didn’t want his team to see him lacking confidence.
Having said that, two more points.
First, Scheyer is still young and he’ll get better at most things that he’s not already good at. He’s a quick study and K has called him the smartest guy in coaching.
Not the smartest assistant. The smartest guy in coaching. Think about that for a minute.
And second, even though it was unintentional, we compared him to Coach K just now and even in that limited way, it’s not fair. He can only be himself.
Clearly though, he got great respect from his players, his staff, and as the season went on, his coaching colleagues and the media. There will inevitably be ups and downs, as there were for Krzyzewski, Dean Smith and even almighty John Wooden. But it’s pretty clear that Scheyer has the potential to be an unusually good coach.