NEW ORLEANS — After coaching the final game of his storied career, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and his wife, Mickie, climbed into a golf cart in a hallway near the Superdome’s press room late Saturday night.
The Blue Devils’ season had just come to a sudden and dramatic end after their 81-77 loss to North Carolina, their Tobacco Road rival, in the Final Four. As a phalanx of photographers and reporters took videos and pictures of the moment, Krzyzewski quipped, “Maybe you can superimpose a sunset.”
As the golf cart drove off with the Krzyzewskis facing the media horde, he added, “Thank you, all.”
The man known as Coach K, 75, may be riding off into retirement after 42 years, but Duke expects to remain nationally relevant under Jon Scheyer, who will take over the program.
Duke could lose as many as five players to the N.B.A. draft, most notably Paolo Banchero, the star freshman forward and a projected top 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 six-player recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by 247Sports.com. The group includes three players ranked in the top five of the class: the 7-foot-1 center Dereck Lively II, the 6-foot-11 forward Kyle Filipowski and the 6-foot-6 wing Dariq Whitehead, a Newark native who played at the powerhouse Montverde Academy, which won its sixth GEICO national championship for independent schools on Saturday.
Lively was named the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, while Whitehead was named most valuable player of the McDonald’s All-American Game and the Naismith player of the year.
“Next year, it’s the start of a new era,” Lively said in a recent television interview. “And I’m ready for me, all the recruits and Coach Jon Scheyer to really get to working”
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 there will be tremendous pressure on him as he replaces a man who won 1,202 games — the most in Division I men’s basketball history — and five national championships. Scheyer was the captain of Duke’s 2010 national championship team, and has served as Duke’s associate head coach since 2018.
Announcing his retirement a year in advance allowed Krzyzewski and Scheyer to divvy up responsibilities in an orderly fashion. Scheyer concentrated 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 at the Final Four. “And we brought our freshmen in earlier, about three and a half weeks earlier. And they took a course and kind of were indoctrinated to Duke.”
The plan seemed to work: Duke earned 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 three-player 2023 recruiting class is also ranked No. 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 the highest level and to bring in the big-big-time players,” Scheyer told The New York Times in an interview last fall.
Now it will be Scheyer — and not Coach K — guiding those big-time players. He has the pieces in place to succeed, but huge shoes to fill as well.
So does college basketball, with Krzyzewski’s retirement coming one year after that of Roy Williams, the longtime North Carolina coach.
Kansas Coach Bill Self, who won his second national championship Monday night by beating North Carolina, believes a group of younger coaches can help fill the void.
“I don’t think that you’re going to see any one person step into a role like Coach K’s had 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 needs changes, too.”
He added: “We need to keep evolving. There’s numerous coaches out there, including myself, that need to have a voice and be active and responsible in helping those changes occur.”