ORLANDO, Fla. — Jon Scheyer has had a successful first year, replacing his mentor and former college coach at Duke. Now, he gets to try to keep it going by beating someone who could have instead been his coach and mentor.
The 5th-seeded Blue Devils will face the 4th-seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the NCAA Tournament second round in Orlando on Saturday with a trip to the Elite Eight at stake. Tennessee is coached by Rick Barnes, the veteran of 36 seasons on the bench, including 17 at Texas. That’s where he was when he crossed paths with Scheyer, then a promising high school guard from Chicago.
“Rick Barnes has been somebody that I’ve known actually since the recruiting process,” Scheyer said. “I took a visit there.”
Had the recruiting trail twisted and turned in a few other directions, Scheyer could have ended up playing his college ball, and presumably starting his coaching career, under the wing of Rick Barnes instead of Mike Krzyzewski.
“My sister went to Texas,” Scheyer said. “So I took one visit there, and he’s a great coach. I have a lot of respect for him. His teams are known for being incredibly tough and together.”
That would be Brooke Scheyer, the older of Jon’s two sisters, who was four years ahead of him in school. She would have been just finishing up in Austin when he arrived. And, while that family connection to Texas may have been the thing that allowed Barnes to lure him to campus, it also ended up preventing him from closing on the hotshot recruit.
“It was a really good visit,” Scheyer recalled. “My sister, she wanted me to go there, but she didn’t because that was her thing that she didn’t want me to screw that up — the little brother coming her way. But I just remember being so impressed. They had some really great teams then.”
As it turned out, Scheyer was able to find his own thing at Duke, scoring more than 2,000 points and leading the Blue Devils to the 2010 national title as a senior. Still, it’s easy to think about what might have been, especially considering who else in Scheyer’s high school recruiting class Barnes was bringing to Austin for visits.
“If I knew Kevin Durant was going there, I think I would have looked a little harder at it,” Scheyer said, “but I didn’t know that at the time.”
Durant spent one season — his and Scheyer’s freshman year — at Texas, leading the Longhorns to a 25-10 record and into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps if he’d had an up-and-coming guard getting Durant the ball and opening things up inside with an outside shot, Barnes could have gone further that year.
“Obviously, I didn’t know I was going to get (Durant) at the time,” Barnes said. “Yeah, Jon was a good player, good person. I think Jon could have gone anywhere he wanted to go, and he obviously picked Duke and it worked out well for him.”
Barnes and Scheyer’s paths would cross once more, however. In the 2009 NCAA Tournament, Barnes and Texas drew a No. 7 seed and beat Minnesota in the first round, putting them in a second-round matchup with 2nd-seeded Duke, who had beaten Binghamton.
“Terrific player,” Barnes said of Scheyer. “We played against him — I don’t remember — in the NCAA Tournament somewhere and they beat us. They knocked us out.”
The game was in Greensboro and Duke escaped with a 74-69 win. Scheyer hit 3 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 13 points. With 30 seconds left and Duke nursing a two-point lead, Scheyer chased down a loose ball, saving it just before it went out of bounds and throwing it downcourt to Elliot Williams.
“Those are plays that you think of Magic Johnson making,” Krzyzewski said at the podium after the game. He then turned to Scheyer, sitting next to him and asked, “You never thought I’d compare you to Magic Johnson, right?”
The man who didn’t become Scheyer’s college coach was sent home, and he wouldn’t advance any further in the tournament until 2019, his fourth season at Tennessee when he led the Vols to the Sweet 16. Now, Tennessee will try to return to that round against the recruit who spurned Barnes to give his sister some space.
“I saw him on the road last summer at the Peach Jam, the first time I’d seen him since he got the job, and I congratulated him,” Barnes said. “He’s certainly worthy of it and done a terrific job. Always a tough situation when you follow someone that did what Mike did there, but Jon has done a great job with this team.”
Someone had to lose in the recruiting battle 18 years ago. It remains to be seen if the same coach will be dealt another loss on Saturday.