As Jon Scheyer heads into his second year as Duke’s head coach, he has the most experienced Blue Devils roster since he was a sophomore in college.
A year after he returned all of two players from Coach K’s last team—guard Jeremy Roach and little-used Jaylen Blakes—Scheyer is seemingly bringing everyone back to Durham.
“It’s been very different for me when you go from last year having two players returning to now we have eight,” Scheyer said. “It’s exciting. There’s some familiarity.”
Familiarity is a term that hasn’t been used much at Duke in recent years. In fact, this year’s team is a throwback to some historic Blue Devil squads.
Duke returns a group of players that scored 2,018 points last season, the most scoring power to return to the Blue Devils since 2008—as Scheyer embarked on year two in Duke Blue. That was also the last Duke team to return four 300-point scorers, five 200-point scorers and five players who hit at least 10 three-pointers. This year’s team is repeating all of those accomplishments.
Duke also returns four players who logged 100 rebounds last season—the first time the Blue Devils have done that since Scheyer’s senior year, when Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Miles and Mason Plumlee returned after hitting the century mark on the boards.
Then there are the really old milestones.
Duke returns four players who started 30 games last season—Roach, Kyle Filipowski, Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell. The last quartet of 30-gamers to return? Shane Battier, Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Nate James in 2001.
Overall, the Blue Devils return 146 starts from last year. The last Duke team to return more? The 1992 Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill team that repeated as natio””nal champions.
The first since 2010 Duke, since 2001 Duke, since 1992 Duke. Those teams all have something in common, hanging from the rafters at Cameron Indo…
That sound you just heard is the head coach blowing the whistle to stop the action.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is you can’t assume, right?” Scheyer said. “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.”
Still, compared to last year, when Duke went through its first coaching change in four decades and had just two guys who knew how to get from the locker room to the practice floor, the returning experience must give the Blue Devils a head start.
“That’s one of the things I’m most excited about this upcoming year,” said Ryan Young, a grad transfer from Northwestern last season who returned for his extra COVID year. “Not taking the summer and honestly, like the first 10 games of the year last year, I felt like were kind of still us trying to figure it out. Understand everybody’s roles, learn how Coach Scheyer wanted things run. So, it’s awesome to have this summer where we can kind of hit the ground running instead of teaching everything.”
As a counterpoint, Scheyer seems to think he has plenty left to teach this group.
“When you think about last year, there’s games along the way, and you have to fight in every game to win,” he said. “It’s not like we were this juggernaut last year.”
Plus, the Blue Devils have been slowed by injuries during the summer. Filipowski had surgery and is just getting back onto the court after three months of rehab. Mitchell is recovering from a knee problem, and Roach has also missed time.
Of course, that gives the team a chance to get acquainted with the newcomers—a freshman class that ranked in the top two or three by most recruiting services. It includes five-star guard Jared McCain and five-star forward TJ Power, as well as McDonald’s All-American forward Sean Stewart and four-star guard Caleb Foster. The team also added forward Neal Begovich as a grad transfer from Stanford.
That means that, even with an accomplished group returning, the competition for time on the floor will be fierce.
“We had a great end to the season,” Scheyer said. “We had a really good year—ACC Champs. All that’s great. But that’s behind us. So everything that you do, naturally as a player returning, there’s credibility you get from things you’ve done. That doesn’t earn you a certain role. That doesn’t earn you minutes, that doesn’t earn you wins. I feel like the chip on our shoulder has been even higher this year from our returning guys, from our incoming freshman. It’s been as competitive as I’ve seen the last few years.”
Perhaps as competitive as he’s seen since he was one of the ones on the floor competing.