The Friday Interview: The development of a basketball prodigy

Simply put, Jon Scheyer is the second most accomplished active Jewish American basketball player.

jon scheyer 88 (photo credit: )
jon scheyer 88
(photo credit: )
While most kids look forward to high school when they finish eighth grade, Jon Scheyer was already thinking about college. It's not his fault, really, but the kid from Northbrook, Illinois, was never like most kids. He had to deal with being a basketball prodigy. Scheyer, a shooting guard for Duke University, received a basketball scholarship offer from Marquette University only months after celebrating his bar mitzva. In high school, his legend would only grow. The stories are absurd. The statistics, silly. There's the time he scored 21 points in 75 seconds. There's the "Mr. Illinois" title awarded to the state's top basketball player after he averaged 32 points, six rebounds and five assists as a senior. There's also that time he led an all-Jewish starting five to the Illinois Class AA title, earning him an induction into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Simply put, playing for one of America's top basketball programs, he's the second most accomplished active Jewish American basketball player, trailing only the Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Farmar. For now. "The way I look at this, regardless of what religion I am, it won't affect the way I play basketball," Scheyer tells The Jerusalem Post following Duke's one-point first round victory over Belmont in the NCAA Tournament. "I just feel proud to represent people from where I'm from." Although Duke would fall to West Virginia in the second round, Scheyer played solidly on college basketball's grandest stage, scoring 15 points coming off the bench. Two days earlier, on Purim, it was his clutch three-pointer from the corner - while drawing the foul - that helped Duke avoid the monumental upset against Belmont. With Scheyer looking to fill the starting role left by graduating senior DeMarcus Nelson, he's bound to improve on his NCAA career average of 12 points per game. And if things work out, Israel may get a chance to host the Scheyer Show. Scheyer, who has never been to Israel and doesn't consider his connection to Judaism particularly strong, has given thought to playing in Israel's 2009 Maccabiah. "One of my friends is trying to convince me to play in the Maccabi games in a year, so we'll see if that happens," Scheyer said. That friend is Sean Wallis, Scheyer's point guard on the storied all-Jewish squad. Wallis, who recently led Washington University - St. Louis to the NCAA Division III basketball title, will be visiting Israel for the first time this summer on Birthright. "[Playing in the Maccabiah] is something that I'm definitely trying to do," Wallis said. "I think it would be a good experience." Wallis credits the naming of the University of Tennessee's Bruce Pearl as Team USA's head coach as a factor in helping influence his good friend Scheyer to participate in the games. "It's a nice honor and I think Jon would be interested in doing it," Wallis said. While Scheyer's high school success reflects on a comfort level he had around his teammates, he's finding that same luxury at Duke, a traditionally Methodist school, where he is the first Jew that many of the guys on his team have met. "For me I knew the guys I was going to college with were great guys and the coaches would look after me," he said. "Even though the school is traditionally Methodist, that's fine. It's worked out." While Scheyer's ultimate career ambition is to play in the NBA, he's going to assess his situation when he finishes his career at Duke. He didn't rule out the possibility of playing abroad, perhaps even in Israel. Whether he ends up playing professionally in the NBA or in Europe, adding the Maccabiah to his resume could bring another colorful experience to his career. But the ball still isn't in his court. "They haven't approached me about it," he said. "But I'll see where I'm at with Duke and go from there." After placing third in the 2005 Maccabiah, the USA men's basketball team could use an assist from Scheyer. Just ask his Duke teammates.