Jon Scheyer told us he was going to change how Duke recruits, prioritizing roster continuity as he put his stamp on the Blue Devil program. Given Duke’s history of one-and-done freshmen and the landscape created by the transfer portal (which has contained more than 20% of Division 1 scholarship players), fans may have been understandably skeptical.
But barely a month into the offseason, Scheyer has laid those doubts to rest.
It started with convincing a trio of likely draft picks in Tyrese Proctor, Mark Mitchell, and Kyle Filipowski to return for sophomore campaigns. It was cemented when Jeremy Roach announced he would return for his senior season. But in between those huge news stories was one that passed without the fanfare it deserved: Duke did not have a single player enter the transfer portal.
On its own, that might not jump off the page. But in the modern landscape of college basketball it is absolutely astounding. Duke appears to be the only major conference program not to have a player enter the transfer portal since the start of last season, and only a handful of Division 1 programs can claim that feat. And it isn’t as if Duke is only returning its big name contributors: Scheyer convinced former 4* recruits Jaylen Blakes, Jaden Schutt, and Christian Reeves, all of whom fell out of Duke’s rotation by season’s end, to return and fight for their role this upcoming season rather than leave for guaranteed playing time elsewhere.
The fact that those players have chosen to stay in Durham might say more for Scheyer’s ability to build roster continuity than any big name returnee. It was clear from his success on the recruiting trail that Scheyer is able to connect with young players at a high level. Keeping them in Durham with no guarantee of immediate playing time shows that he’s able to convince these young men to buy into his long term vision for both them and the Blue Devil program.
That won’t just pay dividends this coming year, where the four big name returnees could portend a special season, but in years to come. Each March we’re reminded that experience and chemistry often trump pure talent in a single, pressure-filled matchup. Consider that in the 2022 Final Four, 17 of the 20 starting players were a part of their program the year before (two of the three that weren’t were Duke’s freshmen).
Continuity was a similar theme amongst the surprising 2023 Final Four participants. Players like Blakes, Schutt, and Reeves likely won’t be called upon to start this season, but have the potential to develop into starters down the line, who importantly would have multiple years in a Duke uniform under their belts. They could become the junior and senior starters that Duke fans have clamored for during the year-to-year upheaval that has characterized the one-and-done era.
After just one season as a head coach, Scheyer has shown he’s able to convince young, incredibly talented basketball players to buy into his long-term vision, both for the team and their individual careers, rather than focus on their short-term thirst for the spotlight or an NBA paycheck. That’s a needle that even Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t able to thread during the twilight of his career.
In Lawrence, Bill Self has seen Kansas’ entire highly touted 2022 recruiting class leave, either to the NBA draft of to the transfer portal (ironically, one of those transfers, Ernest Udeh Jr., is on his way to visit Duke). In Lexington, John Calipari’s Kentucky roster is in a state of flux with a trio of key contributors still “testing the waters” of the NBA draft, and multiple others already gone to transfers. In Chapel Hill, a disappointing season led to what can only be described as an exodus, with seven North Carolina players leaving through the portal.
In that context, Duke’s roster continuity is such an extreme outlier that it would be shocking if it were a fluke. In all likelihood it legitimately speaks to Scheyer’s connection to his players and their trust in him and his plan, both long- and short-term. It has given Duke fans the type of offseason that they would’ve dreamed of a decade ago, and may have deemd impossible just a month ago.
Scheyer still has to prove he can consistently translate these successes to wins on the court, and the expectations will be sky high this fall. But until then, the college basketball world needs to recognize the astounding successes he’s had so far this offseason, both big and small.