Bill Hass on the ACC: Game In and Game Out, Duke Counts on Scheyer for Reliability
Feb. 25, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - On the surface, Jon Scheyer has a simple goal.
"I'm trying to be the guy where, when I step on the floor, my teammates can rely on me and say `hey, this is what Jon's going to bring tonight,'" Duke's junior guard said. "I just want to be reliable."
Being that kind of player isn't as easy as it sounds. It means your teammates and your coach count on you to stay on the floor, avoid mistakes and contribute in a variety of ways that fill up the stat line. It's not a flashy role, but it's a necessary one for most successful teams.
One way Scheyer demonstrates his reliability is by taking care of the ball. He ranks first on the team in minutes played (31.5 per game) but fourth in turnovers. On the season, he has 77 assists to just 44 turnovers.
A natural shooting guard, the 6-foot-5 Scheyer has adapted well to Duke's recent change to a motion offense in which he is the primary ball-handler. He likes the responsibility and uses it to his advantage.
"You know, I like it," he said. "It puts me in a different position and teams don't know how to adjust to it. If a shooting guard is on me, they're not used to picking up the ball like that, and if a point guard is on me, once I get rid of the ball I become a scorer off the ball."
Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team faces the Blue Devils tonight, likes the way Scheyer can both score and pass.
"He's a better ball-handler than he gets credit for," Williams said. "I think he came into the league with a rep of being this big scorer and everything, which he is. But he's a very good ball-handler. He's very calm, he doesn't seem to get (shaken) no matter what happens during the game."
Scheyer was, indeed, a big scorer in high school. When he graduated he was the fourth leading scorer in Illinois state history with 3,034 career points. At Duke he has been a steady scorer, averaging 12.2 points as a freshman, 11.7 as a sophomore and 13.9 this season. He also contributes 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists and is a solid defender.
The breakout scoring game that many had been expecting of him came last Sunday against Wake Forest, when he poured in a career-high 30 points. Of course, the game he picked to do that was the same one in which teammate Gerald Henderson scored his career high of 35.
"G and I watch a lot of games," Scheyer said, "and someone scored 30 in one of them. We kind of looked at each other said `one of us needs to do that.' It's kind of funny that we wound up doing it on the same night.
"I've never quite put together a game like that. I thought I took good shots, I felt good on my jumper; it was something I felt I could do. The scoring just came along with everything else. It wasn't like I was focused on scoring, and that's the best way for me to play. I just wanted to win the game so badly, I didn't think I had scored that much."
Always a fine jump shooter, Scheyer swished half of his 10 3-point shots against Wake. Twice he used pump-fakes to lure defenders into jumping into him on 3-pointers. Those fouls resulted in six free throws, all of which he made.
Scheyer seems to have found his shooting groove after a prolonged slump. During a stretch of 11 games earlier in the season, he hit just 32 of 113 shots for 28.3 percent. His 3-point shooting was equally poor, 19 of 63 for 30.1 percent. He managed to maintain a good ratio with 37 assists to 19 turnovers.
"To be honest, I felt I was in the worst shooting slump of my life," he said. "It's not that teams were focusing on me - I was just missing open looks and that's something I'd never done in my whole life. One bad game of shooting kind of got into my head and I started thinking about it a lot."
So Scheyer had a long talk with assistant coach Chris Collins. One of the points addressed was the way Scheyer approached practice. He realized that perhaps he wasn't going as hard as he needed to because he wanted to be fresh at the end of the season.
"Ever since that point I've done extra work every day after practice and that's made a big difference," Scheyer said. "During the time I wasn't shooting the ball well, I thought maybe I needed my rest and I think that's where I messed up. So now, whether I'm shooting the ball great or shooting the ball OK, I put in that extra work and I feel confident when I do that."
That's the kind of reliability Scheyer's teammates expect. He's a tri-captain this year, an honor that came after a sophomore season in which he was the sixth man, a tough role to accept after he started every game but one as a freshman.
"If I had to do it over again I wouldn't have put him as sixth man," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "I thought he handled that really well. Jon is the kind of guy who will do anything you want him to do to help the team and does that every day. He's consistent in his commitment to his team."
Although he ranked third in minutes played, it wasn't the same as being on the floor from the start. This season, there was little doubt Scheyer would reclaim his starting spot. He put last year's experience to use.
"When it came around to this year," he said, "I kind of put that behind me and concentrated on putting myself as a leader of this team and being one of the guys where I have to produce every night.
"I know how it feels to be starting, I know how it feels to be starting as a freshman, I know how it feels to be the captain, I know how it feels to come off the bench. I feel I can have a lot of empathy for everybody on the team. That's something has helped turn me into a really good leader and a good teammate, being able to connect with my teammates and to know how they feel."
One of the things that coaches notice about Scheyer is that's he's a student of basketball. He studies tape of Duke's games and says he constantly watches other games on TV. He looks for ways other players attack someone who might be guarding him, or how they stop someone he might be defending. He watches some NBA games just to pick up something that might help.
"You've got to play hard but you've got to play intelligently and I think that kid really does that," said Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio. "Duke has gone to much more motion offense than what they were doing earlier and I think that's very conducive to his game. I think that's a big reason why he's successful - he doesn't only play the game from the shoulders down, he plays it from the shoulders up."
Krzyzewski put it another way.
"Jon is a kid that could become a coach," he said. "He loves the game, he loves learning about the game. I think he has adjusted his game where he has to be able to score against, sometimes, guys who are better athletes than he is, and to use his head."
It's a little early for Scheyer to plan for coaching, but it's a possibility.
"I don't see how I could ever live without basketball in my life in some way," he said, "and coaching is something a lot of people have told me they think I would be good at. For me, it's somewhere down the line. I don't know at what level I would want to coach, how long I would want to coach or even if I want to coach. But I think that's definitely something I could end up doing."
Right now, of course, Scheyer is focused on the finish to the regular season. The Blue Devils are 8-4 in the ACC, 22-5 overall and ranked No. 7 in the country. Three of their last four games are on the road, never an easy task.
"We just need to worry about ourselves right now, that's the biggest thing," he said. "We can't sidetracked and worry about other teams. The biggest key (on the road) is to set the tone early. I think you need confidence and I think you need to take good shots. I don't think you can take bad shots and turn the ball over on the road and expect to beat good teams."
Scheyer's overall performance will be important to however successful Duke might be in these games.
"I feel like I'm in a good place right now," he said. "It's at the point of the season now where I need to be the player that coach expects me to be and I want to be a great player for my team. I know what coach wants and I know what we need as a team."
And that's exactly what the team needs from him.
"Jon has been very, very dependable for us," Krzyzewski said. "He's a good leader."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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