Bonkers. Crazy. Nuts.
Take your pick — or two — because these are the words that will describe the soap opera farewell tour that Coach K and Duke will experience this upcoming season. From Midnight to March, it’s going to be madness, as the 74-year-old is stepping down after the season, as current 33-year-old associate head Jon Scheyer has been named coach-in-waiting.
If you hate Duke, then next season is going to suck for you. But, if you love Duke — as I do — it will be an emotional rollercoaster ride that will be covered by ESPN, CBS, and FOX Sports ad nauseam. Don’t be surprised if there’s another docuseries on the way, too, similar to when Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones were on campus.
Let me breakdown the 21-22 Duke season:
Right now we already know that Coach K’s final season will feature a non-conference game against Mark Few and Gonzaga in Las Vegas, a matchup with John Calipari and Kentucky in the Champions Classic, and a likely finale against Tom Izzo and Michigan State in the B10/ACC Challenge. Oh, and the last game he will ever coach in Cameron Indoor Stadium will be against North Carolina.
Duke is loaded, again. And they have Paolo Banchero, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound “power forward” that can play anywhere on the court because he’s the 2021 version of a young Chris Webber.
According to ESPN’s rankings, the Blue Devils’ freshman class features No. 3-ranked Banchero (Power Forward), No. 21-ranked Trevor Keels (Shooting Guard), No. 27-ranked A.J. Griffin (Small Forward), and No. 89-ranked Jaylen Blakes (Combo Guard). They will join Wendell Moore, Jr. and Jeremy Roach who were both McDonald’s All-Americans, as well as 7-foot-0 center Mark Williams who is expected to be one of the best big men in the country next season.
However, no one on this roster has any NCAA Tournament experience besides lone senior Joey Baker who scored only 3 points and played just 7 minutes in Duke’s first-round 2019 matchup with North Dakota State. Due to the pandemic canceling the 2020 Tournament and positive coronavirus tests ending Duke’s chances of making last year’s tourney, Coach K will enter his final tournament with an inexperienced team.
While it hasn’t been made official yet, with the world opening back up you can probably guess that Duke will have fans this season at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The best venue in basketball was dead last season, as the Blue Devils lost five home games, which was the total number of home losses they had in the previous three seasons combined.
When Coach K came to Duke, he was a 33-year-old head coach hired away from Army. Scheyer is also 33 years old, and has spent all of his time as an assistant coach under Krzyzewski. There wasn’t a chance in hell that the person succeeding Coach K was going to be someone that hadn’t played for him and spent time on his staff.
I believed that the job would go to Jeff Capel, a former Dukie and longtime assistant that spent time coaching at VCU, Oklahoma, and Pitt — where he’s currently the head coach. Pulling for Capel to get the job isn’t a knock on Scheyer, it’s logic.
Wouldn’t you want someone with head coaching experience to coach Duke? I guess not. Scheyer got his first win last season when he filled in for Coach K who was in quarantine due to contract tracing. Duke defeated Boston College 83-82 at home.
“I’d be lying if I said this did not mean a lot to me. Naturally, you want to step up and have Coach’s back as a staff. I’ve always wanted to win,” said Scheyer in January after the win. “You’re going into this game and you get one chance so you want to do the best job you can preparing. It wasn’t pretty all the time. I’m proud of the preparation we had as a staff. I’m proud of the decisions in-game, although there’s always things you could do better or differently. To start off this way and get a win ... It’s easier to call Coach after the game. I may not sleep tonight now. But just to move on and go from here. It meant a lot and I’m very proud.”
Scheyer is getting ready to take over for a man that has 5 national titles (and counting), 12 Final Four appearances (and counting), 15 ACC Tournament Championships (and counting), 12 regular-seasons titles (and counting), 3 Naismith College Coach of the Year Awards (and counting), 3 Olympic gold medals, and a 1,170-361 record – and counting. He’s the greatest coach the game of basketball has ever seen.
No matter how you may feel about Mike Krzyzewski, he’s already accomplished something that even his biggest critics can’t deny – which is that he made Duke into arguably the biggest brand in college basketball. Kentucky has a long history and the most wins in the sport. Kansas has the legacy of having the “Father of the Game” be their first coach. UCLA had John Wooden and his 11 championships. Indiana is a basketball-crazed state and had Bobby Knight. And North Carolina has been winning since the 1920s.
That’s all Coach K. He turned the ritzy private school down the street from UNC into a brand so powerful that the basketball team is bigger than the world-renown law, business, medical, and divinity schools the university has to offer. Coach K made something out of nothing. And now Jon Scheyer has been tasked with making sure that something doesn’t turn to nothing.