DURHAM, N.C. (AP)Jon Scheyer didn’t want to make Duke’s season opener all about his first game as the successor to retired Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Instead, he wanted to make sure to enjoy a moment that has rarely come around in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The 35-year-old former Blue Devils player and coach has his first win, 71-44 over Jacksonville on Monday night. He looked calm and in control on the sideline, yet also took moments on the way to the court and then off it to appreciate the scene, too.
Scheyer said he got several text messages from friends in the coaching ranks telling him to ”try to enjoy it.” But he said he didn’t talk to his players about it being his first game.
”For myself, I just took a moment before going out there,” Scheyer said. ”What an opportunity. What a moment. This a a place I’ve grown up in, playing, coaching. And to be here as the head coach, I was not going to be anywhere other than this moment right now.”
Scheyer and his players tried to treat it like a normal season opener. But it represented a seismic change for the Blue Devils program that Krzyzewski had spent decades building into a standard of the sport, one that Scheyer – who was designated as Coach K’s successor in June 2021 – acknowledged was a ”pivotal” moment last spring.
He’s leading a seventh-ranked team with 11 new players, including the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class and a pair of power-conference transfers.
This marked the first coaching debut for the Blue Devils since Krzyzewski won his opener against Stetson on Nov. 29, 1980, one of a record 1,202 victories in a career that included five NCAA championships.
Scheyer was the leading scorer on Coach K’s fourth title team in 2010, then spent nine seasons on the Duke bench. He had even filled in for Krzyzewski due to health concerns for two full games and half of another in the past two seasons.
This time, though, the win goes on Scheyer’s record as the future of the Duke program.
”Obviously we all wanted things to go good, just with it being Coach Scheyer’s first game,” said freshman Kyle Filipowski, who had 10 points and 12 rebounds. ”So of course there were some expectations we had. Just being able to play all 40 minutes battling against them and pulling away and just being all-in with each other, it was a great feeling for us and Coach Scheyer as well.”
Scheyer seemed to appreciate the moment, even as much of everything felt largely routine with another rowdy crowd of fans. Sporting all-black athletics outfit, Scheyer stopped to give a double high-five to a security staffer as he emerged from the locker-room tunnel and made his way to the court.
Once on the bench, he had slid over one spot to his left to fill the chair Krzyzewski sat in for the March home farewell against rival North Carolina.
And when it was over, Scheyer did a postgame TV interview before making his way across the court to start giving high-fives to the front row of cheering ”Cameron Crazies.”
As he made his way along the bleachers toward the tunnel, he noticed a child sporting a blue Duke T-shirt standing on the front row as he started to pass by. Scheyer paused, then leaned over.
”I love it,” Scheyer told the child.
Once he made it to the locker room, the team doused him with cold water in an impromptu celebration that he said left him in a mild bit of shock.
No matter, he figured. It was a moment to remember.
”Again it goes back to going through this experience, trying to enjoy the wins, enjoy these moments,” Scheyer said. ”And then I promise, tomorrow morning we’ll be back at it and there will be a lot we could’ve done better. And then we’ll clean it up and build on.
”But to share that with them was a special thing for me.”
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