In an Unpredictable Tournament, Duke's Scheyer Is One Player to Count On

If he doesn't make it to the NBA, he'll be a top player in Israel, says local coach

Jerry Mittleman
Jerry Mittleman

The recently concluded opening weekend of March Madness was crazy even when compared to the event's usual unpredictable standards. We were treated to a full slate of breathtaking buzzer beaters, college basketball versions of Davids slaying Goliaths, including top-seeded Kansas falling to Northern Iowa. In all, four lower-bracket seeds advanced to this weekend's Sweet Sixteen.

U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to be creating a new tradition by filling out his own tournament bracket on ESPN for the second straight year after choosing the national champion last year. This year, Obama picked Kansas to win it all, but rebounded strongly a day later when his health care reform bill passed in Congress.

In short, the opening weekend seemed to have something for everyone, including local viewers who got to follow Jon Scheyer, a Jewish star leading one of the top teams in the tournament. The 1.96-meter Scheyer is a co-captain and on-court leader of the Duke Blue Devils, the top-seeded team in the South and a strong contender for making it to the Final Four.

A native of suburban Chicago, Scheyer, 22, had a storied high school career and was the fourth-highest scorer in Illinois schoolboy history. He was named Illinois' Mr. Basketball in 2006 and later became the second Jewish player selected for the McDonald's High School Classic, following in the footsteps of the Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Farmar.

The subject of a hotly contested recruiting war, Scheyer shocked many by choosing Duke over his home state school, the University of Illinois, even though the Fighting Illini were coached by Bruce Weber, whose brother was Scheyer's high school coach.

During the course of Scheyer's four seasons at Duke, he has improved every year and expanded his game to the point that he was named a second-team All-American this year and is now on the radar screen of NBA scouts.

His scoring average has risen every year, beginning at 12 points a game as a freshman to close to 19 a game this current season. Known as an excellent outside shooter in college, Scheyer made the transition to point guard in the middle of last season and since then has flourished and become a leader of the Blue Devils.

In addition to his scoring, Scheyer is averaging five assists per game. Though not considered by sports commentators to be particularly athletic, Scheyer is a crafty ball handler who makes excellent decisions and does a fine job of orchestrating Duke's offense.

With Scheyer being considered a late second-round draft pick at best, NBA scouts are divided about his future. Some feel his skill level and lack of athleticism preclude him from having an NBA career. Others think his solid play and excellent outside shot could net him a place as an NBA role player, sort of a Steve Kerr type.

If he doesn't make it in the NBA, Scheyer could easily obtain an Israeli passport and become a highly coveted asset for Maccabi Tel Aviv, as ESPN's Doug Gottlieb noted in January. For that matter, he has the tools to contribute to any of the high-ranking Israeli Super League clubs.

"If he doesn't make it in the NBA, he'll be a top player here," Dan Shamir, Bnei Hasharon's head coach, told Haaretz yesterday. "He's a very good shooter, he can play either guard position, and he is a smart player."



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