You will have to find another target now, and Grayson Allen knows that you will. That guy probably will play for Duke, and that will be enough, but if he happens to give a reason or two to prompt your vitriol, all the better.
“Duke has had many lightning rods over the years,” Allen said. “It’s a long list of them, a long list of white Duke basketball players that have been lightning rods. That’s just how it is, that’s just how it is throughout the country. I didn’t understand it before I came to Duke, but obviously I do now.”
During his four seasons with the Blue Devils, Allen presented the public with several episodes of on-court misbehavior to fuel the disfavor with him. There were the two tripping incidents near the close of his sophomore season, a recurrence near the midpoint of his junior year. It is obvious he is one of those athletes who walks a fine line between intensity and incivility when he competes and occasionally lands on the incorrect side.
It also is obvious to anyone with a television set that he is not alone, nor even in the upper echelon in this category. And yet he seems to be separated into a category of his own. Last season, Rob Gronkowski threw the full weight of his 6-6, 265-pound body onto a prone, unsuspecting player and punctuated this maneuver with a forearm to the back of that opponent’s helmet. He makes TV commercials as lovable Gronk.
There is a subset of college basketball fans, and it seems to include NCAA president Mark Emmert, who lament that the quick trip through the game taken by many elite prospects prevents them from “getting to know the players.”
How hard did anyone try with Allen?
He was asked during his weekend at the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region if he enjoys playing the villain role. His answer came quickly. “No, I don’t. I think I surprise people when I say that I don’t,” Allen said. “But you learn to own it. You learn to accept it. I don’t feed off of the boos. I don’t feed off of anything like that. When I play, it’s serious; it’s a competitive mode for me.
“No one likes to get booed, no one likes to get cussed out, no one likes to get told, ‘F— you’ by 20,000 fans when you go places. But that’s where mental toughness comes into play. That’s what I’ve learned.”
His career began in glory, when Allen came off the bench in the NCAA championship game against Wisconsin in 2015 and attacked the basket with drives that turned around the game. He scored 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting and a perfect 5 of 5 on free throws, production that most likely was not on the UW scouting report. He’d managed only four double-figure scoring games all season.
It ended in agony, of a sort, with his opportunity to put Duke into the 2018 Final Four with a buzzer-beating shot rolling off the rim, off the flange, against the backboard — everywhere but into the net. It was as close as one can come to a hero’s moment and still end up losing.
“I thought once it rolled around a few times it was going in,” Allen told Sporting News. “It was close. It was right there.”
Sunday’s regional final was maybe a great moment for Allen’s detractors. It was hard to say for those in attendance at CenturyLink Center. The fans there were more interested in whether Kansas or Duke would survive to the Final Four than in one last opportunity to revel in a lousy moment for Allen.
He wasn’t good in this game. He shot only 3 of 13 from the floor and 2 of 9 on 3-pointers. He defended well (four steals) and passed well (four assists). With Marvin Bagley getting such a large dose of Kansas’ defensive attention, though, and with Wendell Carter missing so much of the game with foul trouble, Duke needed greater effectiveness from Allen. Even if it was just one more shot.
He will live with that, but he always can remember that he won Duke a championship, also. His was not a conventional career. In his sophomore year, when Duke was somewhat undermanned, he averaged 21.6 points and was a second-team All-American. In his junior year, when Duke was loaded at every position but point guard, he filled in much of the year there and saw his scoring average plunge. That was also when he hit his lowest moment, the December trip of an opponent that led to him being suspended by coach Mike Krzyzewski.
His senior year was relatively free of controversy, until he hip-checked a North Carolina opponent in the ACC Tournament. It was a simple Flagrant 1 foul Twittered into a calamity, but there is at least some concern at the NBA level that he’ll need to manage his competitive demons.
“He’s a 2,000-point scorer. He’s a national champion,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s been our leader this year. He’s one of the outstanding players to have ever played in our program. And he did a great job of interacting with this young group and helped the young group grow. And you’re a shot away, a roll away from being in the Final Four.”
For all Allen went through in his time at Duke, though, for all the disappointment of missing out on a chance to end his college career as he began, he sat in the locker room Sunday night and gracefully dealt with questions about it all.
None of this is likely to change your mind about Grayson Allen, but it seems worth one last try.
“It’s a lot of joy, a lot of happiness when I look back. A lot of growth,” Allen said. “From an outside perspective, it might look like I went through hell for a little bit, and it kind of felt like it there in the middle. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’d go back and come to Duke and stay for four years again.
“I take the stuff on the court so seriously. And I’m obviously very competitive. But the time I have so much fun are just hanging out with these guys, getting to know them better, being a college student just having fun at Duke. I’m making memories with all the friends I have on the team and off the team.”