DURHAM — Last time Jon Scheyer was a member of the Duke program, he and Lance Thomas were hugging in mid-air at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, celebrating the 2010 national championship.
Now, three years later, Scheyer is back. Hell be in a suit (once he buys some) on the sideline as a special assistant. In between leaving and returning to Durham, Scheyer recovered, as much as he could, from a torn retina and severe optic nerve damage in his right eye, suffered during a 2010 NBA summer league game. He also played two years overseas, first for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and, this past year, for CB Gran Canaria in Spain.
Scheyer moved back to Durham in late May and helped with the annual K Academy fantasy camp and basketball summer camps. This month, hell be out on the recruiting trail while Mike Krzyzewski and assistants Steve Wojciechowski and Jeff Capel are in Las Vegas for USA Basketballs mini-camp. And once college basketball practices start in September, he will be allowed to interact with the current Duke players, except when they are on the court (he will watch practices and attend games).
Scheyer took a few minutes last week to answer some questions for the News & Observer.
Q. How does it feel to be back?
Its been great. This is another home for me, so being able to come back here a few years later is a really unique opportunity. And its been something that, when Im walking down the hallways in Cameron or Durham in general, when people come up to me and say, great to have you back, congratulations, it means a lot to me. Its a family to me.
Q. As soon as the Northwestern job opened, people started talking about (former Duke assistant) Chris Collins for that job. When did you start thinking about coming back to Duke, and how did that process start?
It was a conversation I had with Coach (Krzyzewski). Ive always wanted to coach. I think some guys end up going into coaching but not knowing if thats what they want to do. For me, Ive always wanted to be a coach. And so this opportunity, with Chris Collins going to Northwestern, it opened up a spot. Coach and I had a conversation, and he said if Im ready, he would love to have me back. At that point, it was a no-brainer.
Q. Did you reach out to him? Who made the first contact?
Yeah, I called Coach just to talk about my situation. It was bam (finger snap), and he took it over from there.
Q. Were you ready to give up playing?
Yeah, I was. I feel like ever since my eye injury, that changed my path a little bit. For me, Im very, very proud of what I accomplished before that and after that in my basketball career. I can honestly say I dont have any regrets. Ive worked really hard these last three years in basketball. Its a tough business, the professional basketball life, moving around year-to-year. Not only that, but the opportunity to be back with Duke basketball, its not like I was just going anywhere. It was somewhere that, one, its a family for me, but, two, youre competing at the highest level. Thats something I really like.
Q. What is it like starting as a staff member for the first time? Any different than what you were expecting?
Yeah, it is. Its tiring in a different way. Im still getting the hang of it. Luckily for me, not only do I have Coach K to learn from, but I have Wojo and Capel and Nate as well. Theyre as good as it gets. For me, I have a great group of guys I can learn from and talk things through with.
And really, all of them have done what Ive done. Theyve all been players and then professional players and then come back to Duke. Its nice having that familiarity with those guys.
Q. Youll be out recruiting some in July. Is that a skill you teach someone?
I think its something natural. No one has sat me down and said, hey, heres how we want to do this. Its really following your instincts, which is great, and learn the best way for you. Maybe the way I do something would be different from the way Jeff Capel does it. Im trying to learn from them, first and foremost, and then just go from there.
Q. You probably know some of these current players pretty well, right?
Well, I played with Andre (Dawkins) so I know him very well (laughs). And Todd Zafirovski was on the team when I was. And then Tyler (Thornton) and Josh (Hairston), with me leaving and them coming in, I know them very well. And then just from being around the last couple of years, I know all the guys. The only guys I had not met were Semi (Ojeleye), Matt (Jones) and Jabari (Parker). And Amile (Jefferson) and Rasheed (Sulaimon) as well.
Q. The freshmen are on campus now, right?
They are. Its been great, they have a lot of energy. I havent seen them too much, but theyre great kids and hard workers that our going to be great for our team.
Q. What are you most looking forward to in this upcoming year?
Im looking forward most to seeing progression with the guys. It will be really rewarding for me as a coach being able to maybe tell a guy something and see him translate that onto the court. I think that will be the most rewarding thing for me.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley