NEW ORLEANS — After coaching the final game of his storied career, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and his wife, Mickie, rode a golf cart down a hallway near the Superdome press room late Saturday night.
The Blue Devils’ season had just come to a sudden and dramatic end after their 81-77 loss to Tobacco Road rivals North Carolina in the Final Four. As a phalanx of photographers and reporters snapped video and photos of the moment, Krzyzewski joked, “Maybe you can superimpose a sunset.”
As the golf cart drove away with the Krzyzewskis in the face of the horde of media, he added, “Thank you all.”
The man known as Coach K, 75, may be retiring after 42 years, but Duke expects to remain nationally relevant under Jon Scheyer, who will take over the program.
Duke could lose up to five players in the NBA draft, including Paolo Banchero, the star freshman forward and a projected first pick. Two graduate student forwards, Theo John and Bates Jones, the younger brother of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, are also leaving.
But Duke is bringing in a recruiting class of six players ranked No. 1 nationally by 247Sports.com. The group includes three players ranked in the top five in the class: 7-foot-1 center Derek Lively II, 6-foot-11 forward Kyle Filipowski and 6-foot-6 winger Dariq Whitehead, a native of Newark who played at powerhouse Montverde Academy, which won its sixth GEICO National Championship for Independent Schools on Saturday.
Lively was named Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, while Whitehead was named McDonald’s All-American Game Most Valuable Player and Naismith Player of the Year.
“Next year is the start of a new era,” Lively said in a recent TV interview. “And I’m ready for me, all the rookies and coach Jon Scheyer to really get down to business.”
When Krzyzewski announced last June that he would retire after the 2021-22 season, Duke simultaneously said Scheyer would succeed him. Scheyer, 34, has never been a head coach at any level, and he will come under enormous pressure as he replaces a man who has won 1,202 games – the most in Division I men’s basketball history – and five national championships. Scheyer was Duke’s national championship team captain in 2010 and has been Duke’s associate head coach since 2018.
Announcing his retirement a year in advance allowed Krzyzewski and Scheyer to divide responsibilities in an orderly fashion. Scheyer focused on recruiting last spring and summer, while Krzyzewski had more time to be on campus and work with his final team.
“With the succession plan we had in place, I was able to see my guys every day,” Krzyzewski said during the Final Four. “And we brought our freshmen in earlier, about three and a half weeks earlier. And they took a course and were kind of indoctrinated by Duke.
The plan seemed to be working: Duke took the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and won 32 games before falling to North Carolina in an instant classic of a national semifinal, and its recruiting class three-player 2023 is also ranked #1 by 247Sports.com.
“That’s why I think there was a sense of urgency from the school to announce the next head coach and to announce the plans for Coach K where we could continue to recruit at higher level and bringing in the big players,” Scheyer told The New York Times in an interview last fall.
From now on, it will be Scheyer – and not Coach K – who will guide these great players. He has the pieces in place to succeed, but also huge shoes to fill.
The same goes for college basketball, with Krzyzewski’s retirement coming a year after that of longtime North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
Kansas coach Bill Self, who won his second national championship on Monday night beating North Carolina, thinks a group of young coaches can help fill the void.
“I don’t think you’re going to see a single person step into a role like Coach K or anything like that,” he said. “But I think collectively I think we can do a good job of having a voice because our game is great, but our game also needs changes.”
He added: “We have to keep evolving. There are many coaches, myself included, who need to have a voice and be active and accountable to help these changes happen.