Jon Scheyer played 144 consecutive contests for the Duke Blue Devils in his four years in Durham, so when he didn’t play a single game of basketball for 223 days, it got to him.
“I counted the days before I got back,” says Scheyer, who made his return Feb. 22 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the D-League after being sidelined with an eye injury he suffered playing for the Miami Heat in Summer League. And after watching him take the court, you could see that he was more than happy to be back.
The former Duke star has had his share of ups and downs in the last 10 months, but through it all he has kept a good spirit. The ups included leading Duke to the program’s fourth national title in April, while being named a Second Team All-American and finishing ninth on their all-time scoring list with 2,077 career points. The downs, on the other hand, included an ill-timed case of mononucleosis during NBA Draft workouts, and going undrafted.
“I wasn’t at my best,” says Scheyer. “I needed to gain weight after the season and I ended up losing weight because of the mono. I believe everything happens for a reason, I really believe that. I’m just trying to make the most of it and work as hard as I can.”
Then came the eye injury.
In a Summer League game against Golden State, Scheyer was unintentionally poked in the eye by Warriors forward Joe Ingles, causing a tear in his retina.
“I knew it was bad from the beginning,” recalls Scheyer. “It didn’t feel good, something was off about it.”
Scheyer endured rehab that forced him to keep his head and his eyes still.
“I was pretty restless, pretty bored for a couple of months,” he says. “You just have to sit around, but you also can’t be moving your eyes around, so you’re sitting and just looking straight ahead. It was pretty brutal.”
After two months of rehab, he was able to try out for the Los Angeles Clippers before eventually getting cut.
“I knew it was going to be tough for me to make the team because their roster was basically filled,” says Scheyer. “But I was really happy that I did that even though I didn’t make the team. Just to get that experience and know I could still play at that level. It was a big thing for me to go to camp with them. I’m thankful to them for letting me come.”
After being cut from the Clippers, Scheyer took a break from the game to let his eye fully heal. The time off gave the former Illinois Mr. Basketball a new perspective on playing the game.
“Some people say it’s a rough patch, but for me it’s been a real eye opening experience, no pun,” jokes Scheyer. “I think it gave me a chance to get a lot better at some things.
“How many players get a chance to get four, five months to work on their game and target specific areas where you think you need to get better? I had the chance to do that and I think it made me a better player.”
When he was finally ready to get back on the court, Scheyer signed with the Vipers on Feb. 17, joining the team right after the All-Star break. And for his fans, they might have noticed that he had to add a new piece of equipment to his ensemble while playing: Goggles.
“I just clean them off before each game and they’re good to go,” says Scheyer. “For the most part I don’t even notice them. I’m used to them by now.”
He’s still a little rusty, trying to get back to game form, but in six games with the Vipers, Scheyer is averaging 9.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting a rocky 34 percent from the field. But he says his eye has not affected his shooting.
During warmups before his game against the Springfield Armor (see highlights below), Scheyer took an errant shot that hit the top corner of the backboard, earning him an odd look from teammate Patrick Sullivan. Scheyer looked at Sullivan and smiled, then proceeded to hit the bottom of the net on the next four.
Like every D-League player, Scheyer’s goal is to make it to the NBA. He was close this summer, and is determined to get back to that level. But for now he’s just happy to be back.
“I might have some bumps in the road, but it’s a process and I’m just getting through that,” he says. “I’m really excited to be playing. Every day I’m thankful to be out here playing.”
Follow Terrence on Twitter at @Terrence_Payne.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.