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Given the meticulous preparation we’ve seen from Mike Krzyzewski over the decades, you have to assume that he put a lot of time and thought into the changing of the guard at Duke. And when a legend steps aside, that’s not an easy time.
We’re sure he looked at UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky, maybe Alabama football and of course UNC for examples of how (and how not) to manage such a transition.
Remember how Dean Smith was apparently deeply offended that Matt Doherty didn’t retain Bill Guthridge’s staff? You can be sure that Krzyzewski did. And you can be sure he watched how Smith tried to manage the program behind the scenes in other ways, which didn’t exactly work out well for the Heels either.
Another lesson we’re sure he’s learned and also warned young Jon Scheyer about is that you can’t just do it the way your predecessor did it because if you do, staleness is guaranteed and freshness is impossible. If you don’t change anything, ultimately you end up with a museum. And while museums are important, they’re about looking back, not forward and you can see how that worked out at programs that clung to closely to a previous great.
And so far Scheyer has resisted that temptation. We can point to a few obvious ways he is forging his own path.
- Outside coaches
- Home and home series
- Rachel Baker
It was a bit jarring when Scheyer hired Jai Lucas and Emanuel Dildy rather than hiring within the family.
But it was smart.
This is in no way a knock on Krzyzewski, who was immensely loyal to Duke and deserves loyalty back from his school and its fans, but anyone “in the family” that Scheyer could hire would have his roots in Coach K’s program and not the one he is building. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but most young coaches would like to start with their own people.
It’s important for Scheyer to establish himself and how he will differ from Coach K. If you want the right analogy, remember K after the 1991 championship: they weren’t defending anything, but were attacking something. That’s where Scheyer is and should be. He’s building, not retaining. He’s not a docent.
And these were good hires, too. Lucas is widely seen as a rising star in the profession. People are going to line up to throw money at him. He’s probably had a bunch of inquiries already, both at Kentucky and now Duke and may not be in Durham for very long.
Dildy is 42, which is a sweet spot for an assistant, and he’s highly respected for his recruiting chops and his ability to help develop young players. He helped Chris Collins bring in solid talent at Northwestern and he also helped Loyola build and then train the team that got to the Final Four in 2018.
And it’s not like Scheyer is averse to hiring within the family: Mike Schrage, now Special Assistant to the Head Coach (that’s his official title), spent a lot of time on Duke’s bench before going west to Stanford with Johnny Dawkins, and it’s nice to see Will Avery back too. And of course he retained Chris Carrawell. Nolan Smith and Amile Jefferson chose other opportunities, but presumably they could have stayed as well.
Another way that Scheyer is charting his own course is by returning to home-and-home series with major programs.
Duke has taken some criticism for not going to other home courts for many years, but that was a conscious decision. Younger fans might not remember LSU fans taunting Christian Laettner with NSFW chants. That might have been the worst episode, but it wasn’t all of it: Duke was taking a tremendous amount of abuse on the road and Coach K partially solved that problem by moving those games to neutral sites. Why go to on-campus sites and take that kind of abuse? It wasn’t right. Fans in Cameron are hardly perfect, but there’s a real desire to avoid LSU-type behavior and for the most part, that’s been successful.
So Scheyer is changing the neutral-court policy and we’re thrilled. It’s fun to see Duke play anyone because the Blue Devils play hard and respect the game even if they blow out, say, USC Upstate as happened last year. But there's nothing like seeing a high-level game in Cameron. We’re excited to see Arizona this year, even if it means putting up with another visit from Caleb Love. Home-and-home: this is the way.
It wasn’t that long ago, but remember when Duke hired Rachel Baker? It was the first time that a college basketball program - and possibly football as well - hired a general manager.
The Baker hire represents Duke’s fourth major historical innovation in college basketball. Number one was Vic Bubas revolutionizing recruiting in the 1960’s. Number two was Quin Snyder applying business principles to a basketball office, which prior to that tended to be run more like a mom and pop business. Duke’s enormous and highly effective social media presence is number three. And Baker is number four.
All four have now been widely adopted. But the Baker hire acknowledges two things: first, the NIL revolution which, for better or worse, is changing college athletics, and second, Duke’s dominant position in the market place.
There are two other things you should probably also keep an eye on. The first is Duke’s social media juggernaut. It exists because Duke got tired of allowing the media to define the basketball program negatively and Krzyzewski, along with his staff, correctly saw social media as a chance to tell their own stories. That has been a brilliant success, in fact an unparalleled success. Other programs have tried to do the same thing, but no one has come close.
But for all his brilliance, Mike Krzyzewski is not native to that world. He was visionary about using it, but not building it. That's down to David Bradley, and he has done a magnificent job.
Now, for the first time, Duke has a coach who grew up in that world. It’s impossible to say just how, but you can reasonably expect more innovation. It’s easy to imagine Krzyzewski sort of delegating on social media. We’re not saying Scheyer is going to be cutting video, but he’ll be much more aware of trends and new ideas and how social media could be used. And when he posts, he’ll probably understand what he can - and can't do - better than Krzyzewski.
The second is how Duke uses technology. Clearly Duke is already using a lot of tech. You can see the analytics cameras in Cameron and Nike has put a lot of money into various training tech from which Duke benefits. It’s impossible to know what will come along and how it will be employed, but we’re pretty sure, whatever it is, Duke will be at the forefront.
We could imagine, for instance, that Duke might start taking Apple’s new Vision Pro headsets on recruiting visits. Let the recruits and parents try them on to get an immersive sense of game day. You could probably find a lot of things to do with that on a recruiting visit. It’s easy to imagine talking to future teammates or watching a video from a Duke class like you’re sitting in it yourself.
Or we could imagine Scheyer watching game tape immersively. If you can master the complex data input, you could pause the video and wander around the court to see the tiniest details. You could analyze a game (or opponent) in ways that have never before been possible.
Conceivably, and this sounds somewhat surreal, you could have the entire team use them and wander through the action in slow motion. Imagine for instance that you were scouting Arizona and you could follow Love around the court in slow motion. You wouldn’t just know his moves; you’d know what his eyes were doing. You’d know what his tells are, and in detail. Analytics might tell you that he, for instance, goes to his right a hypothetical 65 percent of the time. You could even monitor the assistant coaches and grok what they’re up to. It’s like stealing signs in baseball but at a whole other level.
However that tech, or other tech is ultimately used, it has the potential to revolutionize the game again and it’s hard to imagine Scheyer and his staff not utilizing it to the maximum extent possible.
We won’t know for a while how Duke will use the next generation of technology, but we’re pretty sure that it will remain at the cutting edge. And that’s just another part of Scheyer shaping the program in his way and for his era, which will greatly benefit his players. We’ll look at them in Part III.