DURHAM — Nina King always believed in Jon Scheyer’s vision for the future of Duke basketball.
She pulled for him as a member of the search committee last year to replace Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, and after being promoted to athletic director in May of 2021 — becoming the university’s first Black, female athletic director in school history — that support has continued as Scheyer has executed outside-the-box moves for the program.
“When we interviewed him for this position a year ago, I was really excited for his vision and his preparation and how he was going to create this program to be his own,” King told the USA TODAY Network. “I mean, he’s following such a legend, such an icon and I’m so proud of him for taking the bull by the horns and running with it.”
In April, just a few weeks after Coach K’s final season ended with a run to the Final Four, the 34-year-old Scheyer deviated from the norm and hired outside the Duke Brotherhood, bringing in Kentucky assistant Jai Lucas to finalize his coaching staff .
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Lucas joins associate head coach Chris Carrawell and newly promoted assistant coach Amile Jefferson to make up Duke’s three assistants. Scheyer also added former Elon coach Mike Schrage as a special assistant to the head coach.
Earlier this week, Duke announced the hire of Rachel Baker, formerly of Nike and the NBA, as its first-ever general manager.
Baker will not broker NIL deals for athletes — that goes against Duke’s institutional policy — but will “specialize in helping players enhance their personal and professional skill sets, capitalize on strategic partnerships, including NIL opportunities,” according to the school’s release. Duke football coach Mike Elko also hired a GM this spring.
“She is a superstar,” King said of Baker.
Baker arrives in Durham after eight years at Nike and one season in the NBA. She was heavily involved with Nike’s grassroots partnerships and event strategy — especially with its EYBL circuit — and also worked on strategic initiatives involving Kevin Durant, one of Nike’s six signature athletes. During her time with the NBA, Baker was the marketing and brand lead on a season-long task force in helping rebrand the WNBA and offering digital solutions to reimagine the NBA All-Star Game and NBA Combine.
“We had a lot of conversation during the past year about staff and structure and ideas and visions,” King said. “This is something he really envisioned during those conversations. Ultimately I’m responsible for all of our hires across the department, but I am a big believer in giving head coaches autonomy to make the best decision for their programs. Their success depends on the people that they surround themselves with.”
King called the hiring of Baker “innovative and creative” and added that these types of additions to Duke’s athletic programs were what she promised during her introductory press conference last year.
“I told everybody that one of my goals was to make Duke a modern enterprise and that we were going to be innovative in our approach,” she said. “This is certainly something indicating our vision.”
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.