From hero of the national championship, to college basketball’s most hated player and now senior leader and captain, Grayson Allen’s career arch has been a rollercoaster that has finally come full circle.
Most causal college basketball fans probably don’t remember that Allen barely played during his freshman year at Duke. Allen sat behind senior guard Quinn Cook (We’ll come back to discuss Cook later) and fellow freshman guard Tyus Jones. Allen also sat behind ex-Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon before he was dismissed from the team in January of that season.
Allen found some success toward the end of Duke’s regular season and, of course, in the national championship game vs. the Wisconsin Badgers, scoring 16 points off the bench.
To Coach K and Duke Basketball fans alike, Allen looked as if he could help fill the void left by Duke’s three NBA-bound players, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Jones, in his sophomore season. Allen filled that void and more.
Alongside top ranked freshman Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and shot 41.7 percent from three. It was clear that Allen was the top scoring option for the Blue Devils and flourished in that role, earning the title of All-American.
Allen saw the best production of his career during the 2015-16 season. Unfortunately, Because of two tripping incidents against Louisville and Florida State, Allen became the Duke player everyone loves to hate, on a similar level to J.J. Redick and Christian Laettner. Consequently, Allen was reprimanded by the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and heavily criticized for his actions.
Two mistakes vastly overshadowed Allen’s great season which ended in a blow-out loss to Oregon during the third round of the NCAA Tournament. All signs pointed to Allen leaving the tripping incidents and Duke behind him for the NBA as a projected middle to late first-round draft pick. Nevertheless, Allen decided to return to Durham for his junior year.
During his junior campaign, Allen saw his averages drop significantly for multiple reasons. First, Coach K surrounded Allen with more help in freshman Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and the return of Luke Kennard. Secondly, Allen reverted to his old ways by tripping an Elon player and throwing what can be best described as a temper tantrum on the sideline. In response, Coach K suspended Allen and took away his captaincy. The argument that Allen was a dirty player grew from that point.
In an overall underwhelming season, Allen did show signs that he could still produce on the same level as his sophomore year. In a home win against North Carolina, Allen scored, a game-high, 25 points and hit seven three-point shots.
With a more balanced and talented roster, Duke made in improbable four-game run to win the 2017 ACC tournament. The momentum off a conference tournament title did not help Duke in the NCAA Tournament, suffering a second-round loss to South Carolina.
Grayson Allen again faced the decision of his future. A junior season tainted by his third tripping incident and suspension, hopes of being drafted in the first round were bleak. Allen decided to return to Duke to lead and for one final chance at a national championship.
Before this season started, Allen published a letter on The Players’ Tribune talking about returning to campus, his career and relationship with head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Allen wrote: “I stayed at Duke because, like most college students, I still have some growing up to do — and because there’s nowhere else I’d rather do it. I’m back at Duke because I never left.”
Allen now finds himself in the same position as someone he once looked up to: Quinn Cook. Allen, just like Cook, is the lone senior on the team surrounded by a plethora of talented freshman and looking to lead them to a national championship. Allen has become the loud, fearless leader he once sat next to in the locker room and looked up to as a freshman.
Before Duke’s final regular season game and the ACC Tournament, Grayson Allen ranks 18th all-time in scoring, 5th in three pointers made and 112 wins. Allen joins current Duke assistant coach and ex player, John Scheyer, as the only player in Duke Basketball history to score 1,800+ points, 390+ assists, 260+ three pointers as well as shooting 80 percent plus from the free throw line, according to Duke Basketball Twitter page.
Coming off a tough loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, Allen and the Blue Devils look to extend their momentum into the NCAA Tournament which starts Thursday.
Allen’s leadership, communication and shot-making abilities will be vital for Duke in the NCAA Tournament.