After failing to find a home in the NBA and recovering from eye surgery, former Glenbrook North and Duke basketball star Jon Scheyer decided the best path to continue his professional career would lead him to Israel.
Last June, he signed a two-year contract for a reported 450,000 to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the European League's 2011 runnerup and five-time champion. He began playing for his new team on Oct. 1. A month earlier, Scheyer, who is Jewish, obtained Israeli citizenship.
"I am really excited to take the next step in my basketball career and go play for Maccabi Tel Aviv," he said. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to play for a team with such great tradition."
Scheyer's reputation preceded him. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard led Glenbrook North to the Class AA championship as a junior in 2005, finished as the fourth-leading scorer in state history with 3,034 points and was acclaimed as Illinois' Mr. Basketball. In one of the most celebrated performances in state history, he scored 21 points in 75 seconds in a quarterfinal game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, an entertaining clip that has been viewed more than 160,000 times on YouTube.
After choosing Duke over Illinois, Arizona and Wisconsin, Scheyer averaged 12.2, 11.7, 14.9 and 18.2 points per game in four years under coach Mike Krzyzewski. As a senior, he became the second player in Illinois history to win a state high school title and an NCAA title, following former Thornridge and Indiana star Quinn Buckner.
Despite his many awards and achievements -- he was a consensus second-team All-American, one of six finalists for the Bob Cousy award as the nation's top point guard, one of 10 finalists for the John Wooden Award as the nation's top player and the only player in Duke history to record at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 250 three-pointers and 200 steals in his career -- Scheyer wasn't selected in the 2010 NBA draft.
Although Krzyzewski said he would be "a little bit surprised" if Scheyer wasn't on an NBA roster for the 2011-12 season, NBA scouts and coaches weren't convinced. Not physical enough, some argued. Not athletic enough to defend on the perimeter, others said.
Scheyer pursued his dream with the Miami Heat's summer league team, attended the Los Angeles Clippers training camp and played with the Houston Rockets' Developmental League team. But a serious, life-changing eye injury eventually led to surgery and, after originally turning down several offers to play overseas, he finally decided to go to Israel.
"We always thought that Scheyer had a legitimate shot at making the NBA due to his work ethic and basketball IQ. But we are not all that surprised that he is playing overseas instead," said recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.
"Actually, that is where we thought he would end up and it is not a bad option at all. You can make good money, play against good international competition and live well.
"What is unfortunate is that Scheyer does not fit the mold of the prototypical NBA player in the eyes of professional scouts. While he is a smart player who is also skilled, he lacks the things that are perceived as being automatic ingredients for NBA stardom -- size and athleticism."
Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber, Scheyer's high school coach, believes the decision to play in Israel is a good step.
"He should be in the NBA. But he had eye surgery. He would have been in the NBA if he hadn't gotten injured," Weber said. "He is a smart point guard. He will fight through it. How good is he right now? How is he playing now? Maybe some day he will get to the NBA."
For the time being, Scheyer is enjoying his experience in Israel and battling to earn more playing time. Playing against Real Madrid, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Anadolu Efes and Partizan in Group C of the Euroleague might not sound like prime-time matches with North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas but Scheyer concedes it is a tough transition.
"Every team is coming at us every night. It's just like Duke," Scheyer told Tablet magazine in Tel Aviv last week. "When I was going to Duke, you know it's going to be such a high level. But you don't know what to expect until you get to your first practice. No matter how many times you watch or your teammates have told you, you just need to experience it. The game is played differently. It takes a little time to get adjusted."
Longtime Euroleague and Maccabi Tel Aviv observers point out that starring immediately in Tel Aviv would be akin to earning All-American honors as a freshman at Duke -- not even Scheyer did that -- and the transition to Israeli basketball hasn't been as glamorous as his Albert Pujols-hyped arrival. He has yet to play in Maccabi's two Euroleague games and he has averaged about 10 minutes per game in the Adriatic and Israeli leagues.
At 24, he knows he has time to put his game in order and achieve his goal of playing in the NBA.