New look for Duke as Jon Scheyer debuts

The Blue Devils’ sideline has a very different feel in the season opener

Jon Scheyer picked up a 71-44 win over Jacksonville in his first game as Duke's new men’s basketball coach on Monday in Durham. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

DURHAM — Scenes from a debut, part 1: With Duke nursing a 13-point lead against a surprisingly game Jacksonville team, the Blue Devils get the ball in the final minute of the first half and run the shot clock down. Freshman Kyle Filipowski rebounds a Tyrese Proctor miss with 17 seconds left, giving Duke the chance to run out the clock and take a shot at the buzzer.

Instead, the ball finds its way to junior guard Jeremy Roach, and the longest-tenured Blue Devil on the roster puts up a 3-point shot with 14 seconds to go, giving Jacksonville plenty of time to get a last-second shot of their own.

There was a time not long ago when paint would have peeled from the locker room walls as the team was berated by its coach for such poor end-of-half decision-making. And the fact that Roach’s shot went in and Jacksonville’s didn’t wouldn’t have mattered one bit.

That coach is gone, however, and the new coach has a different approach, to say the least.

Jon Scheyer, in his first game as Duke’s head coach, appeared to give Roach an eye-rolling “congratulations, but …” comment as the team headed to the locker room for the half.

“I told him, ‘I’m glad you made that. You better have made it,’” Scheyer recalled.

And that was the end of it.  No shouting, and the brimstone stayed in storage for the halftime speech.

“For me, Jeremy and I have been through so much together,” Scheyer said. “A lot of game situations. … Having the freedom’s the most important thing. Jeremy, in particular, can’t be looking over his shoulder, worrying, ‘Am I going to be judged on this shot?’ I want him to play aggressive.

“With that, there were things to clean up, but you can’t play basketball overanalyzing. In that situation, would I like him to hold for one shot? Probably. I’d also rather have him follow his instincts. I’m glad he did that as well.”

Duke basketball, to say the least, is different. There’s still intensity on the sideline. Anyone watching Scheyer coach can’t deny that he wants to win desperately and is a fierce competitor. The intensity is more sitcom dad than blast furnace, however — more of a “pass in your geometry homework” intensity than “we’re taking that machine gun nest.”

Scenes from a debut, part 2: The Blue Devils pulled away in the second half, beating Jacksonville handily by a 71-44 score. The sometimes overly aggressive point guard led the way, with Roach scoring 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, assistant coach Chris Carrawell tried to engulf Scheyer in a bear hug to celebrate the coach’s first career victory. The other assistants crowded around to get in on the love.

Scheyer broke through the huddle, however, giving his staff quick thank-you handshakes, then moving swiftly to meet Jacksonville’s head coach and players in the handshake line. Carrawell gestured in exasperation at Scheyer’s reluctance to take a moment to appreciate the win.

Again, it’s a big departure for the Duke sideline. The program has been built on the twin towers of heart and passion. Whether it be tears or snarls, the emotions were always out on your sleeve, right there for everyone to see. Scheyer the coach seems to be less of a floor slapper, however, and more of a gavel thumper, calling the meeting to order.

“I’ve had a lot of friends who are coaches, obviously,” Scheyer said when asked after the game about his emotions. “A bunch of them have sent me messages just to enjoy it. Try to enjoy it as much as I can. And it’s not easy, right? You’re anxious, you have some nerves, where you’re ready to get out there, start to get going. You put in so much work, you want to see it translate on the court.”

He did take time to feel the emotion, but, in what seems to be the new Duke fashion, he did it in private.

“For myself,” he said, “I just took a moment before going out there. What an opportunity, what a moment. This is a place I’ve grown up in, playing, coaching, and to be here as a head coach, I was not going to be anywhere other than this moment right now. And hopefully I can do that going forward through the ups and downs.”

Scenes from a debut, part 3: Before the season tipped off, with the players on the floor warming up and the crowd buzzing as the pregame clock counted down, a hype video played on the scoreboard showing highlights of Scheyer’s playing career and leading up to his entrance.

The Cameron Crazies cheered loudly through the video. When it ended, Duke’s head coach stepped out of the tunnel. As he did so, the Crazies — did nothing. Arms flailed or hung limply, with no purpose.

For decades, the coach’s entrance at Cameron has generated a response of thousands of fans bowing their arms in a “We’re not worthy!” huzzah gesture. The coach who inspired that gesture is gone, however, and out of respect, the Cameron Crazies are not carrying it over to the new guy. But they still haven’t figured out what to do as a replacement. So they stood, cheering and looking for a new direction.

Fortunately, it appears that a new direction is something the Duke program has already found.