There’s an old saying in college coaching circles that the last thing you ever want to do is follow a legend — point being that it’ll likely be impossible to match the legend’s level of success, which eventually causes you to be labeled a disappointment, whether you really are or not, before ultimately getting fired.
And I get that perspective.
Honestly, I do.
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But the flip side is that when you do actually follow a legend, especially a legend who is turning over to you an iconic program in amazing shape, you are, at least initially, working with lots of advantages that should have you set-up to win quickly and massively. You just have to, you know, take advantage of it. And I’m obviously making this point now because Jon Scheyer is a perfect example who is taking advantage of it.
The latest development came Monday night — when Dereck Lively, the second-ranked prospect in the Class of 2022, committed to the Duke program Scheyer, a current Blue Devils assistant, will officially be in charge of the moment the 2021-22 season ends and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski retires. The plan was put into place back in June, well in advance of the July Evaluation Period, because Krzyzewski had no interest in recruiting prospective student-athletes under false pretenses. He wanted all prospects to understand that, from that point forward, if they decided to commit to Duke, they’d be committing to play for Scheyer, not Krzyzewski. And if you assumed this would cause Duke to suddenly slip as a national recruiting power, well, it’s not too late to adjust that opinion.
Because Scheyer has been killing it.
Lively, a 7-foot-1 center is the third top-10 prospect from the Class of 2022 to commit to Duke since Scheyer was named coach-in-waiting; the others are Dariq Whitehead, a 6-6 wing ranked fifth in the Class of 2022, and Kyle Filipowski, a 6-11 center ranked eighth in the Class of 2022. Together, they now comprise what is considered the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, according to 247Sports. And though it’s obviously still early, it should be noted that Duke also currently has the top-ranked recruiting class in 2023 thanks to Scheyer getting a commitment from five-star point guard Caleb Foster just last week.
To be clear, whether Scheyer ultimately proves to be a worthy successor to his former coach and forever mentor will be determined by things that happen on the court after he’s officially the head coach and completely running the program. Recruiting rankings guarantee little, if not nothing. So we won’t really know for sure whether Duke’s succession plan was good or bad, smart or dumb, successful or unsuccessful, until at least 2023 (and probably later). But there’s no denying it’s off to a great start in all of the ways such things can be measured so far.
Scheyer can’t prove he’s a coach yet.
That’ll come later.
For now, all he can do is work relentlessly to set himself up to be great and successful when he slides over one chair. And Monday night’s development — a development that featured Scheyer beating John Calipari and Kentucky for a five-star center the Wildcats prioritized — was the latest step firmly in that direction.