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Duke’s Jon Scheyer has never been afraid of a challenge

The Glenbrook North graduate will become the Blue Devils’ new coach when Mike Krzyzewski retires after the upcoming season.

Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer is will succeed Mike Krzyzewski.
Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer will succeed Mike Krzyzewski.
Ben McKeown/AP

Jon Scheyer reached out to his usual Chicago contacts in late March. It wasn’t to pick anyone’s brain about local recruits or ask about a player in the transfer portal. It was to prepare for a follow-up interview at DePaul.

Yes. The guy who is now Mike Krzyzewski’s handpicked successor at Duke really did want the DePaul job. Things move quickly.

Athletic director Kevin White approved Scheyer as Krzyzewski’s successor on Wednesday. Krzyzewski, a coaching legend who grew up on the West Side, will retire after the 2021-22 season.

Scheyer, 33, has been an assistant at Duke since 2013-14 but has never held a head-coaching job at any level.

He is stepping into huge shoes. Krzyzewski played his high school ball at Weber, a Catholic school on the Northwest Side that closed in 1999. He went on to play for Bob Knight at Army.

In 41 years as the head coach at Duke, Krzyzewski has won five national championships, reached 12 Final Fours and coached the U.S. Olympic team to gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Overall, he has won 79% of his games at Duke and has the most wins of any Division I basketball coach with 1,168.

This past season, however, Duke had the worst ACC finish in Coach K’s illustrious career. And he missed out on a local recruit for the first time. No area player had ever turned down a scholarship offer from Krzyzewski until Rolling Meadows star Max Christie chose Michigan State over the Blue Devils in July.

Scheyer isn’t super-well-connected in Chicago, but he is an Illinois legend. Every basketball parent will remember his name, even if their kids don’t. Scheyer and Glenbrook North were the biggest story in Chicago sports during the winter of 2005-06.

“I think [Scheyer] is the best player ever to play high school basketball in Illinois,” Dave Weber, the Glenbrook North coach at the time, said before Scheyer’s senior season. “I know that’s a big statement. I’m not saying he’s going to be the best college player or the best pro. His records are just mind-boggling. There is no one who is so complete.”

Statistically, it’s easy to make the case that Scheyer is the most complete player in IHSA basketball history.

He’s the only player in Illinois high school history who’s in the all-time top 20 in total points, assists and steals. He’s fourth all time in scoring, 20th in assists and 10th in steals.

Those stats won’t help him much in the Duke hot seat. But Scheyer has a proven track record as a winner. He was a high school legend, a star player at Duke and a standout recruiter as an assistant coach.

The fact that Scheyer went hard after the DePaul job shows he wasn’t afraid of a challenge. He was ready to start near the bottom of the Division I coaching ladder. Instead, he’ll start at the top. Despite the media glare and pressure, it will be an easier task.

Scheyer knows how to recruit Duke-level talent. He was the lead recruiter for Jayson Tatum and Zion Williamson. Wintrust Arena is nice, but convincing kids to play at Cameron and follow in the footsteps of dozens of NBA stars is a sweet first gig if you can get it.

In-game coaching is the big unknown for Scheyer, but basketball always has come naturally for him.

This is the guy who scored 21 points in 75 seconds at the Proviso West Tournament in 2005. Coaching a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans at Duke doesn’t seem nearly as challenging.