Being Jon Scheyer
A change in position has ignited the senior and Duke.
Jon Scheyer has always been a man of many talents when it comes to the game of basketball.
His shooting prowess was forever immortalized on YouTube when he scored 21 points in 75 seconds as a senior at Glenbrook North High School in Illinois.
His ability to incite the wrath of opposing crowds – particularly in the ACC – simply by stepping onto the court has put him in the same class as other legendary Duke players such as Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick.
It is perhaps Scheyer’s most recent act of greatness on the hardwood though that will leave the greatest mark on his legacy in Durham before his career is over and give Duke its best chance in years to return to a Final Four.
It was at this time last season that the Blue Devil offense was stagnant and sputtering under the two-man direction of Greg Paulus and current junior Nolan Smith that Mike Krzyzewski decided to make a change and shift Scheyer over from his traditional shooting guard position to point guard. Having served as a complementary scoring option in his first two and a half seasons with the program and feared most for his perimeter marksmanship, he seemed an unlikely choice in a dire situation. While the move didn’t propel Duke to its first Final Four since 2004, Scheyer quickly showed an innate ability to run the offense, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the ACC Tournament.
Now, as Scheyer and his teammates prepare for their rivalry matchup with North Carolina tonight, it is the Midwest gunner who will be receiving the bulk of the attention from the Tar Heel defense, after the change in position has launched him to the upper echelon of the college game.
“I think running an offense is an ability I’ve always had, I’m just in more of a position to do it now,” said Scheyer. “I’ve always felt my biggest strength was my understanding of the game and my instincts. As a two-guard I didn’t get to do that as much, but now as a senior and playing the point, it has allowed those skills to come out more.”
Those skills have manifested themselves into a long list of statistical accomplishments for the senior, including one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country, a number that at one point stood above four, but as the result of a recent competitive stretch in the ACC has “dropped” to 3.15. Perhaps even more startling than Scheyer’s emergence as a top flight floor general though, is the dramatic increase in his overall efficiency as a player, despite the added pressures of running an offense. In addition to seeing his shooting numbers increase across the spectrum from a year ago, he is shooting at a career best clip from both the free throw line and from beyond the arc, and is within a fraction of a percent of establishing a new career-best in field goal percentage as well.
Both Scheyer and the coaching staff insist that the ability to run an offense has always been there for the senior, he was simply never utilized in his present day fashion. One consensus throughout the program though has been the manner in which the change of position for the team captain has changed the Blue Devils.
“Last year we went through a bit of a stretch where we struggled and Coach K is never one to stand still when things aren’t working,” Associate Head Coach Chris Collins said. “We put the ball in Jon’s hands, tried him in some different spots on the court and it really gave us a shot in the arm. He plays at such a good pace, he isn’t the prototypical point guard, but having him out there to set other people up makes us such a poised team.”
“Even when he was a younger player he still made a lot of heads up plays, he was good with the basketball and always had a good assist-to-turnover ratio. Sometimes it’s easy to stereotype him as this jump shooter, but that’s never really been his game, he’s been a guy who makes a lot of different plays.”
The end result for the team has been a dramatic increase in the productivity of their backcourt. In addition to the career year that Scheyer is having, juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have benefitted as well. Singler, who has been somewhat inconsistent in ACC play, is still scoring at a higher rate than he did a year ago, and Smith has seen the greatest degree of improvement, more than doubling his offensive output from a year ago. Collectively, the three upperclassmen form the highest scoring trio in the nation, averaging nearly 54 points.
The general feeling around the program has been the tendency of the team to rely on three perimeter players to provide the bulk of the scoring isn’t a concern, particularly with Scheyer conducting the offense, it simply means that the frontcourt will be expected to step up its production when the trio isn’t performing at optimum levels.
And while the presence of three explosive scorers may create some question as to who has the ball in their hands during crunch time, one thing isn’t up for debate: Scheyer is still the most hated Blue Devil when the team is on the road, a fact he relishes.
“The more the fans say your name, the more they worry about you,” said Scheyer. “There are certain places where they really love to yell at you, so they must really be worried about you. It’s something we joke about on the team because it doesn’t really bother us, it’s amusing.”
Certainly the senior has proven several times over that the words and taunts of opposing fans have little impact on how he plays on the court, if anything, it is his own words that will result in any added motivation.
Prior to the start of the season in an interview with Sports Illustrated, Scheyer stated that he felt this year’s Duke team was the best he had ever been a part of. With veteran leadership returning and an influx of young talent, particularly in the frontcourt where the Blue Devils have struggled in recent seasons, he felt this was the time for a trip to the Final Four. Now more than four months after he made the comments, Scheyer feels exactly the same as he did when it comes to the status of his team.
“I still feel that way and the reason I said it was because I saw at the beginning that our ceiling was so high,” he said. “To this point I don’t think we’ve played close to our potential. As of late in these last couple of weeks we’re starting to grow into ourselves a little more. We have more big guys, we have a strong perimeter and our chemistry is starting to come together. If we can reach our potential I still believe this can be the best team I’ve been a part of, but we still have a long way to go.”
Collins echoes Scheyer’s thoughts, stating that the added depth in the frontcourt will allow the team to succeed in more physical games, where in the past they would have struggled. The inability for Duke to win games that break down into half court slugfests in recent years has been a well discussed point in the national media, but the addition of players like Mason Plumlee and the improvement of Brian Zoubek have helped change the manner in which the team operates inside.
Still, when the rigors of March begin to surface, the coaching staff knows that the players will be looking to Scheyer to lead the way.
“He’s been a great leader,” said Collins. “Every one of the players respects Jon because he is a guy who not only says it, but he goes out and does it. He works hard, isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body and everyone respects the way he plays the game. I think he’s carried that out to the other players in the program, he isn’t a vocal guy but does it by example and he’s done a fantastic job of that this season.”
So when the Blue Devils take the floor at the Dean E. Smith Center tonight it’s a safe bet that the Scheyer will have his full array of talents on display. He will attack the Tar Heel defense with his jumper, he will draw the wrath of the Carolina faithful in attendance and he will steer the Duke offense.
A basketball renaissance man if there ever was one.