It’s sometimes hard to pull the recent past into focus. Remember every Final Four team? Remember who Florida Atlantic lost to?
Remember all four teams in the Final Four? If you’re struggling, it was San Diego State and the other two teams in the Final Four were Miami and UConn.
So when you look back at last season and realize that not only did Jon Scheyer do very well in his first season replacing iconic Mike Krzyzewski, he did it with two returning players and while overcoming some critical injuries.
That team improved dramatically and by the end of the season, the offense was outstanding and the defense was simply brilliant. Duke won the ACC Tournament, making Scheyer, if we’re not mistaken, the first ACC coach to win it as a player and coach. He’s also the first to win the ACC as a coach and player and also to win the national title as a player. If he wins a national title as a coach, he’s going to be in rare are indeed.
For a guy in Scheyer’s situation, that was a remarkable first season. Basically, he coached his ass off. Most remarkably, and we’re not really sure how this happened, people stopped comparing him to Coach K and that may be the most remarkable accomplishment of all.
This year is going to be really different obviously. Instead of two players back, Scheyer gets eight - and some outstanding new talent.
And he seems to be approaching that correctly as well: “Well, I think the biggest thing is you can’t assume, right? You can’t assume something is going to happen just because you have a certain number of players returning or because of whether you have us higher or not in preseason rankings. That doesn’t mean anything, and I’ll continue to remind our group.”
He probably has to have another solid season to keep the remember-when people from taking over the narrative, but if he does, Duke may be in the most successful transition from a legend in (at least) recent college basketball history.
Think about the truly great coaches who retired and look at the aftermath:
- Dean Smith
- Adolph Rupp
- John Wooden
- Bob Knight
- Jim Calhoun
- Lute Olson
UNC got back under Roy Williams - two coaches later - and the program faces some uncertainty now under Hubert Davis, who has not fully proven himself.
Kentucky followed Rupp with Joe B. Hall, who did succeed, but not so much in the eyes of Kentucky fans, who put immense pressure on Rupp’s successor.
UCLA was a train wreck for decades after Wooden.
Indiana is just now recovering from Bob Knight’s tumultuous 2000 departure - maybe.
Calhoun was followed by Kevin Ollie, who won a national championship, but who was fired after an NCAA investigation. UConn also left the Big East for a time, which led to more difficulties before hiring Dan Hurley.
And at Arizona, Lute Olson took a leave of absence in 2007-08, leaving his team to the volatile Kevin O’ Neall. Following the season, he retired and Arizona hired Russ Pennell as an interim coach before turning to Sean Miller, who was successful, but no Lute Olson.
Clearly, after one season, Scheyer can’t rest on his laurels. But the fact that people are talking as little about Krzyzewski as they are when it comes to Scheyer’s performance is highly unusual.