BCH's top Duke hoops headlines of 2021
This past year was full of big headlines when it comes to Duke basketball. Here are a few of our favorites.
The past two years have brought some of the biggest and widest reaching stories in college sports’ most recent history. The pandemic and its impact on the world has certainly dominated the headlines since early 2020, and sports pages and websites have been continuously littered with stories examining COVID-19’s impact.
Many of those stories have been difficult to consume, while others have become formulaic in how they are produced and received.
No doubt, it has continued to be the biggest story throughout 2021. However, sports news has not completely revolved around the topic.
As the year is coming to a close, it’s time yet again to reflect on news that has impacted college sports. For the purposes of this column, we are more specifically going to take a look at Duke basketball, and just a few of the many stories that will stick out for a long time to come.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
If you’re a Duke fan, there’s no story bigger than that of Mike Krzyzewski announcing his retirement following the 2021-22 season. Krzyzewski’s late May announcement was not entirely surprising, particularly after the season he and the Blue Devils endured in 2020-21.
To be clear, the outcome of last season was not a deciding factor for Krzyzewski. Instead, after 40+ years as a college coach, the end had to come at some point. With college sports in the midst of some major changes, the timing only made sense for Krzyzewski to call it a career.
Krzyzewski has fielded questions for the last 10 years about his retirement. His answer never wavered. Without digging into my archives for quotes, he generally responded with a quick and succinct answer, something to the effect of: “I’m healthy. I feel good. I still love coaching.”
All of those reasons still exist today, but as he noted in his announcement press conference, it’s simply time.
His announcement sent shockwaves throughout the college basketball world. It was received with responses from NBA greats, both current and past, professional and collegiate coaches, business leaders, politicians, media members, university officials — just about anyone and everyone had a reaction.
Of course, the Duke-haters of the world took their shots and danced with joy of the announcement. But mostly, the response was as we would expect — one of reverence.
On the flip side of that came the immediate speculation about who would replace the hall of fame coach. Former Duke players and current head coaches had their names tossed around: Jeff Capel, Johnny Dawkins, Tommy Amaker, Chris Collins, Steve Wojciechowski, Bobby Hurley and Quin Snyder were among the many names being discussed by media members, fans and athletes.
Then there were those outside of The Brotherhood: Brad Stevens and Mike Brey, though he was a longtime assistant for Krzyzewski.
That story was nearly just as big as the retirement story.
Then Krzyzewski and Duke Athletics stunned the sports world by announcing Jon Scheyer’s hiring as his successor. Scheyer’s name had come up on occasion, but most quickly moved on to other guys listed due to his lack of head coaching experience.
But most who questioned the hire were quickly won over by Scheyer, who stole the show at his early June introductory press conference. His passion, character, charisma and competitive spirit reminded some of a young Krzyzewski.
And since then, the promise of Scheyer and his future as Duke basketball’s leader has only grown.
SCHEYER ANNOUNCES HIS PRESENCE
Scheyer has one game under his belt as a head coach, and it came in interim fashion during the 2020-21 season. And he remains a few months away from taking over as the leader of Duke basketball and nearly 11 months of coaching his first game as the head man.
Clearly there is still a lot to learn about how Duke’s young coach-in-waiting will perform when it comes to on-court and in-game coaching. Sure, all the signs point to him being successful, but the fact is all of that remains an unknown.
The one area in which Scheyer already has full control over is recruiting. And wow did he boldly announce his arrival to the rest of the college basketball world.
Perhaps no other coach in the country has been as successful on the recruiting trail over the last six months than Scheyer. Talk about making a statement — Scheyer’s first recruiting class currently ranks No. 1 in the nation, with four top 15 prospects (Dereck Lively II, Dariq Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Mark Mitchell), one four-star (Jaden Schutt) and a three-star 7-footer (Christian Reeves).
His six additions in the class of 2021 put every other program in the nation on notice, as he let it be known that he has no plans of allowing Duke basketball to slip from the national stage.
In addition to his class of 2021 haul, Scheyer has also secured commitments from class of 2023 standouts Caleb Foster, who has not ruled out reclassifying to 2022, and most recently Sean Stewart.
Whether or not Scheyer can sustain this level of success is yet to be seen, but the splash he has made thus far is one of the biggest Duke hoops stories of the year, and in all honesty, one of the most prominent in college basketball recruiting.
WENDELL MOORE JR.’S EMERGENCE
If you were hoping for a feel good story, look no further than the year Wendell Moore Jr. has produced.
The junior co-captain entered last season with preseason accolades and expectations of being the next Duke standout. Unfortunately, he was unable to live up to the lofty expectations. Consequently, many wrote him off as being a bust, or player who would never produce at a high level.
Fortunately for Duke fans, Moore did not listen to all the noise. Instead, he believed in himself and his coaches. And the result has been one of the most impressive transformations we have seen in quite some time in Durham.
Moore has gone from being written off to a legitimate All-American candidate and perhaps Duke’s most valuable player through the first two months of the season.
And it could not have happened to a better person. Throughout all of the challenges Moore has faced in his three years at Duke, his off-the-court personality and high character have never wavered. Since day one, Moore has been brutally honest about himself and his individual standards. Meanwhile, he has held his teammates accountable to those same principles.
The result has been one of the best leaders this Duke basketball program has had — and yes, I am very aware of how bold that statement is considering all the greats who have come through Durham.
Additionally, he has produced on the court. As mentioned, Moore is having an All-American worthy year, averaging 17 points, 5.7 rebounds, five assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
PAOLO BANCHERO’S NIL SUCCESS
It took a long time to get there, but the NCAA finally made some much needed changes to its outdated rules regarding name, image and likeness (NIL).
Now college athletes can capitalize on their popularity and profit from their NIL. Duke freshman Paolo Banchero has taken full advantage of the new rules, and is showing future college athletes the possibilities that lie ahead.
Banchero, the potential No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, became the first college athlete ever to sign a multi-year deal with Panini trading cards and later video game giant NBA 2K.
While NIL developments have garnered some media attention over the last year, it’s in the forefront of the minds of many top high school prospects. And make no mistake about it, they are taking notice of Banchero’s success in that regard.
Though Duke leaves the pursuit of NIL deals up to the individual, and only offers guidance in terms of compliance, the program’s brand and national stage undoubtedly play a major role in opportunities presented to players.
That fact, coupled with Banchero’s proven success, only makes Duke an even more attractive destination for top basketball recruits.
Look for this story to become even bigger in 2022.