Jon Scheyer felt a rush of excitement as he walked onto the practice court inside Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday afternoon.
The 35-year-old has gotten used to the pomp and circumstances of being Duke’s basketball coach: extra interviews and more time away from his growing family, not to mention the lingering expectation of replacing retired Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski. It’s all things he expected when he was named Coach K’s successor the offseason before last year’s Final Four run.
But the first official practice with his first team?
“That was a big deal,” Scheyer said Tuesday. “I don’t know if I pinched myself or didn’t believe it, I believed it for sure. It felt like a great day, but I just focus on the next day, and I know there are a lot of other firsts and hopefully a lot of great ones to come.”
It was a moment the young coach had circled on his calendar — the beginning of a new chapter at Duke with a team of fresh faces not tethered by last year’s overwhelming expectations.
Of course, winning will always be the expectation at Duke.
Illinois graduate transfer Jacob Grandison remembers discussing the pressure of playing at Duke with Scheyer when he first arrived on campus.
“He was like, ‘dude, you don’t think I have the most pressure in the world to do what Coach K did? I don’t care,’ Scheyer told Grandison. “I’m here to win.”
He’s certainly built a team that can compete for a national title.
The Blue Devils feature three of the nation’s top-rated recruits from the class of 2022, including 7-foot-1 center Dereck Lively II, 6-6 small forward Dariq Whitehead and 6-foot-11 forward Kyle Flipowski. He added four-star point guard Tyrese Proctor after the freshman from Sydney, Australia, reclassified in June and will have the veteran leadership of junior guard Jeremy Roach to anchor the young talent.
WHAT PRESSURE?: Scheyer plans to keep Duke in title form after Coach K era
“Obviously, last year was magnified because it was Coach K’s last year,” said Roach, who emerged as a star during Duke’s NCAA tournament run before falling to North Carolina in the Final Four. “But every year, Duke is always a target.”
Scheyer has made sure to maintain a close relationship with Krzyzewski — the 75-year-old still holds his office on campus — while highlighting the youthful changes to one of college basketball’s premier programs.
“I actually saw him yesterday,” Scheyer said of Krzyzewski. “We haven’t gotten to the depth of our team, because frankly, I haven’t gotten into that. But we have a truly special relationship.”
There have been some changes instituted by Scheyer, most notably the outside hire of Kentucky’s Jai Lucas as an assistant coach. Coach K always made it a point to hire from within.
“One of the things that was really appealing to me was his (Scheyer’s) ability to be OK with change and an outside perspective,” Lucas said. “That’s something he said he wanted.”
Scheyer has also implemented new team-building activities with the help of a famous friend. Recording artist Mike Posner, who went to school at Duke, turned him on to the Wim Hof breathing method that Scheyer took to his team. It was Posner himself that took the Duke team through a guided session. Scheyer called it a “crazy but purposeful experience.”
“It was something that I’ve personally never done,” Flipowski said. “But I think it helped the team a lot. We were able to release our stresses and reflect on the men we are and where we want to move forward as I team.”
The Zen approach has shown itself during practice and team workouts. Roach said Scheyer has a lighter touch with players as opposed to Krzyzewski’s more abrasive style.
“He’s good at giving instruction but keeping guys up at the same time,” he said.
The biggest difference for the team is Scheyer’s physical role in practice. Unlike Krzyzewski, the much younger Scheyer, and former Duke guard, can practice what he preaches on the court.
“I mean, he’s definitely a lot younger,” returning reserve guard Jaylen Blakes said while laughing. “He can get on the court and actually show us what he wants us to do. Coach K tried to do that, but you know, he didn’t do it a lot.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Duke coach Jon Scheyer moving on from the Mike Krzyzewski era