Scheyer a natural leader

Desire to succeed developed early

Staff WriterMarch 18, 2009 

DURHAM - Four years ago, Jon Scheyer's mother called his high school coach one Saturday morning with some unusual news.

"Jon is going crazy," coach Dave Weber said Laury Scheyer told him. "He's writing a letter to every kid on the team."

Glenbrook North, Scheyer's high school, had completed its regular season the night before and was heading into the playoffs. Scheyer wanted to win a state title and was leaving nothing to chance.

He typed out individual letters to each teammate, instructing them on the roles they needed to play for the school to win a championship.

He wanted Zach Kelley to rebound and score inside.

Scheyer's backcourt partner, Sean Wallis, needed to be a leader and hit shots. Scheyer told Malik Valliani he needed to become a good passer.

"His leadership is incredible," Weber said. "You can talk about it, but it was so natural with him. He just did it."

That's why it seems so natural to Weber that Scheyer is thriving at Duke after being moved from shooting guard to the starting point guard spot on Feb. 19. The point guard is supposed to be the leader and steadying force for a team, and Weber said that role fits Scheyer perfectly.

With Scheyer claiming most outstanding player honors at the ACC Tournament, Duke seized the league title Sunday at the four-day event.

Before his move to the point, Scheyer was averaging 13.1 points a game. Since the move, he has averaged 20.2 points in nine games. Eight of those games have been wins for Duke (28-6), which will meet Binghamton (23-8) in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at about 9:40 p.m. Thursday in Greensboro.

"I like having the ball in my hands," Scheyer said Tuesday. "I feel like I'm not going to make bad decisions with the ball. When you do have the ball in your hands a little bit more, it's not like every time I catch it I'm looking to score right away. I know the ball is going to come back to me. ... I do think I know what Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] wants most of the time."

Flawed comparison

Scheyer's greatest individual performance during high school might have hindered the discovery of his personal niche at Duke.

During one incredible scoring spree when he was a senior, Scheyer poured in 21 points in 75 seconds against Proviso West. That same season, J.J. Redick's 26.8 points per game for Duke was the highest scoring average by an ACC player in 15 seasons.

The transition seemed as if it would be perfect. Recruiting analysts sometimes compared Scheyer to Redick. One shooting guard with incredible scoring ability would be replaced by another.

But the players never really were much alike.

"I never thought he was going to be that kind of player," Weber said. "I know he had a lot of points in high school that led people to believe that. ... I just don't think he's that type of player in college."

Duke would run Redick off countless screens in every manner imaginable with the goal of getting him to catch and shoot his gorgeous jump shot. Scheyer's release isn't as smooth as Redick's.

But since Duke has moved Scheyer to point guard, Krzyzewski has seen that one of Scheyer's best assets is his ability to stay cool under defensive pressure. Scheyer won't dribble past five players to lay it up before the press gets set up the way North Carolina's Ty Lawson does.

Instead, Scheyer usually makes the smartest, most conservative play possible with the ball. That doesn't get him a ton of assists (he's averaged 1.9 the last nine games), but it helps Duke keep the ball.

Scheyer has 10 turnovers total in the last nine games, an extraordinarily low number for somebody who's constantly handling the ball.

"He's done such a good job because he values the ball," Krzyzewski said Sunday after the Blue Devils claimed their eighth ACC title in 11 years. "We're not going to make highlight tapes of him leading the fast break, but he's done a great, great job."

Need to believe

Scheyer's role appears to be changing slightly again with sophomore Nolan Smith's return after recuperating from a concussion. But even when Smith was playing his best basketball of the season in the ACC Tournament, Scheyer was the player bringing up the ball against pressure and getting Duke's offense started.

Smith sounds like he is more comfortable on the wing.

"I still have some work to do at the point," Smith said Tuesday, "but off the ball I'm a lot more comfortable when I get the ball that I'm not going to make a turnover. And if I am at the ball and Jon goes to the wing, it's not like I've been at the point the whole game. I can run the offense."

It's mostly Scheyer's duty to run the offense, and he is comfortable doing it.

Scheyer also sounds like he is preparing to exert the same kind of leadership as he did at Glenbrook North.

He might not do anything as overt as writing letters, but he does have a message for his teammates. He said Glenbrook North had never won a state title until he led them to one that season.

Duke has three NCAA championships under Krzyzewski but has failed to advance past the second round of the NCAAs in each of the last two seasons.

"We really haven't done anything in the tournament, and many people don't expect us to [this year]," Scheyer said. "And for us, in high school it was the same thing. And the main thing I want to get across to my teammates is that we can win, and I believe we can win. . . .We need to believe we can win. Because we can."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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