Duke is used to offseason departures and having spots to fill. It’s just usually one-and-done players that are the ones leaving rather than assistant coaches.
The Blue Devils opened the 2022 offseason with a pair of vacancies on the staff, adding to what will already be one of the biggest transition seasons in school history.
Jon Scheyer was faced with the prospect of replacing himself as he moves from his previous associate head coach spot to take the head coaching job following the retirement of Mike Krzyzewski.
Coach K announced the end of his Hall of Fame career before the season, giving Scheyer plenty of time to prepare to move up. Before he could set about hiring his replacement as one of his first moves as the new head coach, however, the number of positions that needed filling promptly doubled.
Shortly after Duke lost to North Carolina in the Final Four, Louisville made a push to sign Nolan Smith away from the Duke staff. A former national champion as a Duke player, Smith was lured back to the school where his father starred, winning a championship of his own in the 1980s. After one year as a Duke assistant, Smith will take over as associate head coach under new Louisville head coach Kenny Payne.
That gave Duke a pair of openings on the staff, and Chris Carrawell is the only 2021-22 assistant still working in that job as the offseason starts.
The turnover doesn’t appear to have had a major negative impact in the short run as the Blue Devils landed a pair of five-star 2023 recruits on back-to-back days in Tyrese Proctor and Mackenzie Mgbako, giving Duke four five-stars and a four-star in the 2023 class already. The Blue Devils now have three of the top 13 prospects in the class.
Scheyer also landed an eyebrow-raising addition on the coaching side, although he still hasn’t filled either assistant spot.
Mike Schrage has stepped down as head coach of Elon basketball to take a position as a special assistant to the head coach at Duke. Schrage spent nine years on Duke’s staff as academic and recruiting coordinator and director of basketball operations.
“I loved being a head coach and especially at Elon, but this was an opportunity I felt I could not pass up,” said Schrage. “I am honored to be back at Duke starting this new chapter with Jon Scheyer. My experience previously with Coach K not only shaped my career in this profession but my entire life. I have believed in Jon to the fullest since I was fortunate enough to be on staff when he played. I could not be more excited to help him build on Duke’s incredible tradition of excellence while putting his own stamp on the program too.”
The move gives Scheyer someone with head coaching experience on hand — Schrage has coached Elon since 2020 and has a decade of experience as a high-level assistant at Ohio State and Stanford.
“Having learned from some of the best coaches in the game before taking on a head coaching role himself, Mike brings an unparalleled breadth of knowledge to our staff,” said Scheyer. “I’ve been lucky to know and trust Mike implicitly since my playing days when he was Duke’s director of basketball operations. He will have an immediate impact on our team strategy and organization.”
That still left two open spots on Duke’s staff.
Scheyer filled one Tuesday with Amile Jefferson, who spent last season as Duke’s director of player development. Smith followed a similar path to the coaching staff, serving in several noncoaching roles until a spot opened.
“Having a front-row seat for the evolution of Amile’s career has been special,” said Scheyer. “His passion, knowledge, and ability to relate to our guys is second-to-none. He played a valuable role for our team this season, particularly in the development of our frontcourt, and this promotion allows him to make an even bigger impact in the years ahead. His experience in the NBA combined with being a national champion, three-time captain and four-time Academic All-ACC pick at Duke makes Amile an essential voice on our team.”
“I’m deeply honored and excited to be here and be a part of this team that Jon Scheyer is building,” said Jefferson. “I feel a special bond and connection to Durham, our fans and our entire Duke family. Being here means the world to me. I want to extend my appreciation to Coach K for the opportunity to begin my coaching career last year, and I’m grateful for Jon for allowing me (to) continue it.”
Steve Wojciechowski would be an option for the other spot. He had been head coach at Marquette until a year ago and would provide Scheyer with head coaching experience on the bench. He likely had designs on succeeding Krzyzewski, however, and may not want to take his old position under the man who got that job.
That’s also an issue facing Jeff Capel, another potential addition. He struggled at Pitt last season and reportedly held onto his job at least in part due to a prohibitively large buyout. A move to Duke could help both Capel and Pitt in a cheaper, face-saving parting. Giving up a head coaching job in the ACC is a tougher sell than leaving Elon for Duke’s staff, however. Greg Paulus is another current college coach who might be looking for new surroundings after three losing seasons at Niagara.
There are also several former players in assistant or support roles around the country who could get the call from Scheyer, who will likely want to act fast to fill out his staff — so he can get started on the players who will inevitably be departing any time now.