The fun has just begun for Duke’s Scheyer
INDIANAPOLIS – Two days before the biggest weekend of his basketball career, Jon Scheyer told his mother he was bald.
For nearly five minutes Thursday morning, Laury Scheyer listened in disbelief on the phone as her son explained how, in an act of team unity, every player on Duke’s roster had shaved his head.
“Is there anything left?” said Laury, who has always been particular about Jon’s appearance. “Or did you literally cut off every hair?”
Jon spoke in a serious tone.
“I’m completely bald, mom,” he said. “And I’m warning you: It looks terrible.”
Laury remained silent and, after a few moments, Jon couldn’t stand it any longer.
“April Fools!” he yelled into the phone. “Haha! Got you! OK … gotta go eat breakfast now. Bye.”
Amusing as Thursday’s prank was to Scheyer, it had to be equally comforting to head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is glad his senior point guard is feeling at ease as the Blue Devils prepare for their first Final Four appearance since 2004.
Scheyer will need to be at his best if Duke has any hopes of defeating West Virginia in Saturday’s semifinal game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I go out the right way,” Scheyer said.
Some would contend Scheyer has already done enough.
He ranks ninth on Duke’s all-time scoring list with 2,039 points and has won 113 games during his four-year career. This season, Scheyer led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and guided the Blue Devils to the ACC regular championship along with the conference tournament title.
Still, until they defeated Baylor in last week’s Elite Eight, Scheyer and senior classmates Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas had been criticized for failing to lead Duke to college basketball’s final weekend.
Now that they’re there, nothing other than an NCAA title will satisfy the Blue Devils’ rabid fan base.
The high expectations don’t bother Scheyer. After all, he has them, too.
“Jon isn’t happy unless he’s winning,” said Dave Weber, Scheyer’s coach at Glenbrook North High School just outside of Chicago. “He would’ve been quiet about it, but I know him, and if they wouldn’t have made it to the Final Four, he would’ve been [crushed]. He expected nothing less.
“Now that he’s there, he’s intent on winning the whole thing.”
Basketball, baseball, video games, Monopoly. Jon Scheyer has always been a competitor – even at dinner.
Years ago, whenever the Scheyer family went out to eat, Jon and his two older sisters would race each other to the table. The winner was the one who was seated first with their chair pulled in and a napkin in their lap.
The contest, of course, was all Jon’s idea.
“His whole life,” Laury said, “Jon has found ways to turn the simplest things into games.”
That competitiveness, coaches said, is the main reason Scheyer has always excelled on the basketball court.
At Glenbrook North it didn’t take Scheyer long to earn the nickname “Jewish Jordan.” Scheyer – who received a scholarship offer from Marquette as an eighth-grader – started for the varsity team as a freshman, which didn’t always sit well with the seniors who had spent years paying their dues.
Weber – the brother of Illinois head coach Bruce Weber – said his older players grew jealous of the attention Scheyer was receiving.
“I don’t remember exactly what happened,” Weber said, “but it was late in the year, and he made some big plays and we won a game. All of a sudden everyone on the team realized, ‘I guess we better start following this kid.’ We went all the way to the state semifinals that year.
“He’s got an unbelievable ability of making his teammates understand what it takes to win. Maybe it’s his work ethic or maybe it’s the way he carries himself. But if you’re his teammate, you can’t help but see what he’s all about. It’s hard not to admire it.”
By the time Scheyer was a senior he was regarded as one of the top players in Chicago, where stars such as Derrick Rose, Sherron Collins, Jerome Randle and Jacob Pullen also were commanding headlines.
Scheyer was twice selected Illinois Player of the Year by Gatorade and he finished his career as the fourth-leading scorer in the state’s history. In 2005, Glenbrook North won a state title.
Scheyer was the catalyst.
The most legendary Scheyer story occurred when he scored 21 points in 75 seconds during a failed comeback attempt by Glenbrook North. Weber’s favorite tale, though, involves something that happened when the stands were empty and the lights were dimmed following a weekday practice.
Scheyer, Weber recalled, refused to leave the gymnasium that night until he made 50 consecutive free throws. After swishing 49 in a row, he clanked what should’ve been his final attempt.
“His father said, ‘C’mon, Jon, it’s time to go home,’ ” Weber said. “Jon looked at him and said, ‘No. I’m starting over.’ Then he stayed until he made 50 in a row.”
“There’s a reason he shoots free throws so good [88.2 percent] for Duke,” he said.
Top 25-caliber schools from across the country offered Scheyer scholarships, and there was pressure to play for Weber’s brother, Bruce, at Illinois. Scheyer eventually opted for Duke, where former Glenbrook North standout Chris Collins had starred.
Four years later, Scheyer’s decision still doesn’t sit well with some in his home state.
Scheyer was booed at Chicago’s United Center when he was brought onto the ice between periods of a Blackhawks game. He’s also heard jeers on numerous occasions during trips to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs.
“We try to look at the situation as a compliment,” said Laury, half-joking. “Apparently he’s the type of person they wanted to stay in-state.
“Sherron Collins didn’t go to Illinois, Julian Wright didn’t go to Illinois, Derrick Rose and Shaun Livingston didn’t go to Illinois. But, for some reason, people were mad at Jon.”
Not that it even made Scheyer regret the decision.
“Even if they wouldn’t have made it to the Final Four this year, he would’ve realized what Duke did for him,” Laury said. “Everything he’s learned under Coach K … plus the academics and the friendships. Those things are forever. He’s grown as a man these last four years.
“Duke has been good for Jon.”
And Scheyer has been good for Duke.
When Jon Scheyer arrives at Cameron Indoor Stadium for practice each day, he often parks so close to the drivers’ side of his teammates’ vehicles that they have to enter their car through the passenger door.
Other times Scheyer places large rocks behind their wheels so they can’t back out, and locker room pranks have become the norm for Scheyer and his teammates.
Scheyer also is a sports video game nerd who frustrates his teammates with late comebacks, just when he appears all but beat.
In some ways the situation has mirrored his senior season at Duke. With Gerald Henderson entering the NBA draft and Elliot Williams transferring to Memphis, Duke entered the season with minimal expectations. Sure, the Blue Devils were ranked in the Top 10 in some preseason polls, but that was mainly because of their name.
By all accounts, the 2009-10 season had all the makings of a transition year.
Instead, just as he did in high school, Scheyer took control of the team and made it his own.
“Going into this year, we had some younger guys, and I felt like I had a lot to give them,” Scheyer said. “I’ve been more vocal than I have in the past. With this being my last year, I didn’t want to hold anything back. If I said too much, I said too much. But [if we underachieved] it wasn’t going to be because I was holding back at all.”
Scheyer, who switched from shooting guard to point guard near the end of last season, enters Saturday’s game against West Virginia averaging a team-high 18.2 points. He’s shooting just 39.5 percent from the field, but more than half (273) of his 506 field-goal attempts have been from 3-point range.
In his last eight games Scheyer has only nine turnovers.
“Nothing really surprises me about Jon,” Krzyzewski said. “I love Jon. He’s not just been a good leader. He’s been a beautiful young man to coach. Jon has never had a day where he hasn’t tried. He has a perpetual great attitude.
“That’s infectious with his teammates.”
If not for a late season surge by Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, Scheyer likely would’ve been named Player of the Year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Instead he became the first senior in league history to earn unanimous all-conference distinction without having appeared on the first, second or third team in any of his first three seasons.
Gratifying as those accolades may be, they hardly compare to what he’s helped Duke accomplish.
It seems fitting that Scheyer’s final appearance as a college basketball player will on the biggest stage of them all. Here at the Final Four, he’s two wins away from cutting down the nets.
“No matter what happens in Indianapolis,” his mother said. “I couldn’t be more proud.”