Commentary

No holding back

Duke's Scheyer has always played to win it all, and as a senior he might get his chance

Updated: January 6, 2010, 2:18 PM ET
By Scott Powers | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeJon Scheyer
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireJon Scheyer leads Duke in scoring (18.8 points), assists (6.4), steals (1.4) and minutes (35.1).

Jon Scheyer requested one favor from his mother, Laury, before he makes his Chicago homecoming this week.

All he asked was not to talk about who would be attending Wednesday's Duke-Iowa State game at the United Center.

It's not that Scheyer doesn't find his return to Chicago to be special. He knows it's here where he once scored 21 points in 75 seconds, won a state championship, scored 3,034 career points and became a high school basketball legend.

He's shaken enough strangers' hands to recognize what he means to people, and he's signed enough autographs to realize kids in his hometown of Northbrook have grown up pretending to be him when they jack up jumpers in their driveways.

Scheyer is grateful to have so many people care about his career, and he knows many will be there on Wednesday. Scheyer just doesn't want to have to think about any of those people before game time.

His focus all season has been winning, and he's not going to be distracted from that even if he is playing in the same stadium where he used to watch Michael Jordan or is about to have several hundred family members, friends, former teachers and coaches cheering solely for him.

"He told us, 'I don't want to hear anything,'" Laury said. "'I don't want to know who's coming.' He has no clue. At the end of the day, Jon will love the support, but it's about winning to him. I think it'll be more emotional than he can realize. I think he'll be able to reflect after the game."

That will likely be short-lived, too. Scheyer isn't allowing himself to stray too far from his goal of a national championship this season. It's what has eluded him his entire college career.

Coming out of Glenbrook North High School, Scheyer could have picked nearly any college program in the country. He made the unpopular decision of Duke over Illinois, even though his high school coach is Bruce Weber's brother, because he believed he could win a national title with the Blue Devils.

So far, that hasn't happened.

Duke has had plenty of success in Scheyer's 3½ seasons. The Blue Devils have gone 92-25, won an ACC championship and been to three NCAA tournaments, including a trip to the Sweet 16 last season. Yet, it isn't exactly what Scheyer signed up for.

"I'm happy I chose Duke," Scheyer said. "I wouldn't change my decision for the world. My only regret is not winning a championship."

Larry Butler would chuckle at those words. That's the Jon Scheyer Butler came to know throughout his high school career. Butler coached Scheyer on the Illinois Warriors, a club team, and he witnessed Scheyer do everything he could to win every tournament.

While most other club players did their own thing and attempted to showcase themselves to college coaches, Scheyer played to win. That's why Butler includes Scheyer among his all-time favorite Warriors players, which include Dwyane Wade and Andre Iguodala.

"His legacy will be he was always the ultimate team player and winner," said Butler, who will be among the Scheyer fan club on Wednesday. "He's one of the most competitive guys to come through the program. He was always about winning. One of the things I'll remember about him is whenever he was with me we were playing in a championship game or semifinal. Anything else was a disappointment."

The way Scheyer has won consistently in his career, from his numerous AAU championships to Glenbrook North's state title in 2005, has always included a few common ingredients. For one, his teammates have to be willing to share the ball. Two, his coach has given him the freedom to be a playmaker.

For the past three seasons, Duke hasn't possessed that recipe. Scheyer never seemed to click with the team's main scorers Gerald Henderson, DeMarcus Nelson and Josh McRoberts, and it was Greg Paulus' responsibility to man the point.

Now, that's changed. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has given Scheyer the team's reins, and Scheyer has found running mates in Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.

"Josh McRoberts was obviously a different persona, Greg Paulus was a different person, Taylor King, who is now at Villanova, liked to shoot the ball right away," said Glenbrook North coach David Weber, who coached Scheyer for four high school seasons. "Jon is a team player. I think he struggles with different egos, dealing with them and meshing them all together. I think that was different for him. He doesn't say it, but he just kind of shakes his head. Jon is a big chemistry guy. He's got to feel good about his teammates.

"This year, definitely, it's got his trademark on it -- smart, they play hard, you can tell they share the ball. That's something he instills in them."

Scheyer has noticed a difference in himself this season. In his previous years, he felt he may have held back a bit.

"I think I'm following my instincts," Scheyer said. "I'm just playing my game. It's exciting to have the ball in your hands. I feel like I can really make decisions. I'm just going out playing."

His numbers reflect that. He leads Duke in scoring (18.8 points), assists (6.4), steals (1.4) and minutes (35.1). He also has committed only 17 turnovers, and his shooting percentages -- field goal (.455), free throw (.907) and 3-point (.430) -- are the highest they have been in his career.

Like every Duke coach, Blue Devils assistant coach Chris Collins is happy to see Scheyer performing so well. Scheyer has been a major reason for the team's No. 5 ranking and its 12-1 start to the season.

But for Collins, Scheyer's success has added meaning. Collins has known Scheyer since Scheyer was a kid. They grew up in the same community, played for the same high school, and Collins recruited him to play for the same college as he did.

"Jon and I have a special bond," said Collins, who played against Illinois at the United Center in 1994. "We have a great relationship. Being from the same area, the same high school, having a similar love for the game, we've been like brothers. To watch him grow on and off the court and to be a part of that process is very gratifying."

Lately, Jim Scheyer, Jon's father, has been thinking a whole lot more about that process, too. It seems like just yesterday he was sending his youngest child off to Duke.

"I remember Coach K sitting there and saying, 'Your son is going to become a man, and when you look at him his senior year he's going to be grown-up,'" Jim said. "It's amazing how fast it's gone. It went fast.

"It's just really a fortunate thing to sit back and watch him aspire to achieve something. It's gratifying. The first couple years it's more of a whirlwind. Now it's more reflection and appreciation since grade school. You think, 'You took a skill and passion, and you got a great college education, and you had experiences with basketball and met a lot of great people. You've done that.' It's been an amazing journey for this portion of his life. It's a great period for us. It's his life, not ours."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.

Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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