He’s been cursed by fans from North Carolina and taunted in road arenas throughout the ACC. Still, the chant that Duke guard Jon Scheyer remembers the most occurred during an AAU game back in high school.
Time and time again as Scheyer dribbled up the court, the opposing coach stood on the sideline and barked orders to his players.
“Get the white boy!” the coach said. “Get the white boy!”
Scheyer was the only non-African-American on his team.
“Obviously,” Scheyer said, “he was talking about me. I had a number and a name [on my jersey]. But instead it was ‘Get the white boy!'”
No one, though, was ever able to stop Scheyer from reaching his potential.
Not at his Chicago-area high school, where he led his team to a state championship. Not at Duke, where he earned first-team all-ACC honors. And not in Indianapolis, where Monday’s NCAA title game between the Blue Devils and Butler has taken on an unfamiliar look.
Five white players could be on the court at tipoff. That’s the most since 1998, when six white players started in the Utah-Kentucky final.
Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard–two of Butler’s top players–are white. So are five of Duke’s top seven players.
Even though the race issue isn’t discussed in polite company, it’s been the subject of hushed conversations at the Final Four and will be obvious to anyone in attendance or tuning in at home. The subject is so taboo that even Larry Bird bristles when it’s brought up.
Negative stereotypes about lack of speed, agility and leaping ability are being challenged.
“For me, it was always just about being a basketball player,” Hayward said. “I’d watch some of the great white players in the NBA and say, ‘Why can’t I do that?’ ”
Like many people, Bird [Larry Bird, the NBA Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics legend, who is now the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers] doesn’t like to talk about the race factor in college basketball and the professional ranks. Last summer he was heavily criticized for selecting Tyler Hansbrough, who is white, with the 13th overall pick in the NBA draft.
When he was in elementary school, Budinger [Chase Budinger, a second-round draft pick from Arizona who is also white] said his friends laughed at him when he told them his goal was to become a professional basketball player.
For a time, Budinger was projected as a first-round pick in last summer’s draft, but he slipped into the second round. He thinks he knows why.
“I heard a lot leading up to the draft that I was soft and that I wasn’t athletic or quick enough to play in this league,” Budinger said. “That stereotype came from being white and from being kind of different.
[Butler lost to Duke in last night’s championship game, 61-59.]