NEW YORK – Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick, and Greg Paulus. These are the names of some of the most famous Duke “villains” that traumatized college basketball fans with their clutch shots, arrogant attitudes, and floor slapping. Wherever they went, they got booed because they were hated and because they were Duke.
Over the past three years, Junior Duke guard Grayson Allen has aligned himself with those other Duke players. However, the hatred of Allen has a unique twist to it. Allen isn’t just simply hated because he is from Duke, is a good basketball player, or is passionate; it is his childishness on the court that has fans furious.
In three different instances, Grayson Allen has intentionally tripped an opposing player, something that ESPN-analyst and Duke alumnus Jay Bilas thought was “bizarre.”
“I have never seen it before,” said Bilas.
The first instance of Allen tripping someone was on February 8th, 2016 in a home game versus Louisville. Allen tripped Lousiville forward Ray Spalding after Spalding grabbed a rebound and looked to head up the court. Since it was the first instance, the media didn’t make too much of it as it was a rash incident and Allen earned a flagrant foul on the play.
With the second instance, on February 26th at home against Florida State, Allen tripped up FSU guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes during the waning seconds of a Duke win. Following the trip, Allen walked over and attempted to help up Rathan-Mayes. In disgust, Rathan-Mayes ignored Allen’s hand and complained to the referee.
Following the game, Allen stated that he was not going to do it again and planned to move forward. With a second tripping incident within three weeks of the last one, Allen immediately began drawing boos and hate from opposing teams and became the next Duke villain.
In the third and final instance, this season in a December 21st game against Elon, Allen blatantly tripped guard Steve Santa Ana thus starting a scuffle between the two teams. Soon a technical foul was assessed to Allen. Immediately after the technical foul, Allen was benched by Coach Krzyzewski. Once on the bench, Allen threw a giant tantrum as he acted like a child.
Soon after the game, Allen was surrounded by reporters in the locker room, as he gave a tearful interview with his head mainly buried in a Gatorade towel.
“I made another mistake, and I’m going to try to be better again like I have been in past years,” sobbed Allen. “There’s no excuse for it.”
“It’s not like you see this happen with anyone else,” said Bilas. “I can’t think of any legitimate excuse for this. It’s bizarre.” Bilas is right. With Laettner and other Duke villains, you never saw remorse or something as childish as tripping. What you saw from those Duke players was physical play. From Allen, you witness foolishness.
This outpour of emotion by Allen following the third tripping incident is when my opinion of him changed. Instead of viewing him as the Duke villain and the arrogant punk that fans harass on social media and in the arena, I realized that this isn’t a kid like those former Duke players.
Allen is just a competitive individual struggling with his attitude and he is being victimized by the media for his mistakes. What makes Allen different is that he doesn’t seem to want to act like this and has shown remorse for his actions. Allen doesn’t walk into the building ready to talk smack to every single player and physically assert himself, he just wants to be better than opposing players, and that is it.
Amidst all the trips, college basketball fans often lose sight of how great of a player Allen is. In his freshman year, Allen came off the bench and provided Duke with huge baskets en route to winning the NCAA Tournament. On top of that, Allen was named an Academic All-American for his good grades, a very unappreciated award nowadays.
In his sophomore season, Allen averaged an astonishing 21.6 points a game and was a finalist for the Wooden Award. Many scouts had Allen projected to go first round in the NBA Draft (along with teammate Brandon Ingram who went 2nd overall to the Lakers), but Allen decided to return to Duke for his Junior season.
Grayson Allen brings something special to college basketball. He can hit the three consistently (40.3% on his career) and can drive to the basket with his weak hand and finish while absorbing heavy amounts of contact. Along with his elite skill, Allen’s passion and determination to play hard are commendable, and all players should strive to be more like him in this area.
Going back to his antics, tripping someone is wrong and doing it multiple times is inexcusable and childish. Despite that, I honestly believe that Allen is trying to change and isn’t satisfied with being labeled as a villain. Additionally, unlike other players, Allen has shown remorse for his actions and has stated multiple times that he just wants the best for the team.
“I’m an emotional player just to begin with. I love my team I love the guys I play with,” proclaimed Allen during that tearful postgame interview. “I just wanted to make sure I apologized to him.” Allen did indeed apologize for the trip to Santa Ana, something I cannot recall many other Duke players doing after they did something harmful.
A lot of you will say he hasn’t changed since that night and I can see why you say that. But, just one time, put yourself in his shoes.
If you were frustrated and angry, would you want everyone in the world to see that? Would you want everyone hounding you after every move you make? No, you simply wouldn’t.
Now with that made clear, Grayson Allen’s actions are understandable. Again, I am not condoning the tripping. What I am saying is that Grayson Allen is just like all of us, imperfect.
This week at the ACC Tournament, Allen has impressed me with his growth. After receiving a technical foul for slamming the ball in Duke’s first game against Clemson, Allen immediately walked to the bench, didn’t complain, and showed no signs of frustration. Better yet, for the remainder of the half, Allen was Duke’s biggest cheerleader from the bench. When his teammates made a big play, he was the first one out of his seat to cheer them on.
In Duke’s following game against Louisville, Allen bounced back from his scoreless game against Clemson (his first since the 2015 Elite Eight Game against Gonzaga) by scoring 18 points against Louisville. Allen’s gritty performance helped Duke stay alive in the ACC Tournament, as they needed every point to beat Louisville that afternoon.
In the post-game press conference, I asked Allen what his confidence was like and what it meant to him to have an excellent performance after having the terrible performance against Clemson.
“Well, I always have confidence,” said Allen modestly. “It’s big for a game like this because I was happy I was able to contribute to the team in what we did. We really needed a spark off the bench, and I didn’t think I did a good job of that in the first game. So I thought I could be better than that.”
Allen’s answer not only struck me as honest but heartfelt. The way he calmly replied and his facial expressions conveyed sincerity. Plus, Allen wasn’t talking about what his goals were, he talked about what the team needed and realized that he just need to give them a spark.
“Today when I came in, it was really just trying to give these guys energy. A lot of our starters played big time minutes just 24 hours ago, where I had a little bit fresher legs and was able to go out there and really just attack and hopefully pick the team up and give us a little spark.”
There is one thing that I have noticed about Allen that completes my reasoning for changing my mind on Grayson Allen; the way he looks at Coach Krzyzewski.
During every press conference Allen has with Krzyzewski, Allen looks up (literally) to Krzyzewski when he speaks. When Krzyzewski compliments Allen or another player, be it, Jefferson or Tatum, Allen nods in approval and smiles just like a son would if his father told him that he did a good job.
“Look, I love Grayson. Grayson, I got his back all the time,” Krzyzewski stated proudly. “I believe in him. I love him.” After that statement by Krzyzewski, Allen began to smile brightly. It was a father and son type moment that we need to look at and appreciate. By his body language and emotions towards Krzyzewski, Allen has proved to me that he is wanting to change and looks to his mentors and father figures for wisdom.
Grayson Allen will always be a competitive and gritty athlete. He will talk smack on the court and always think he is the best player on the floor. That is competitiveness, something that players need to be great. Allen has that and always will, and that is a good thing.
We also need to understand that he is human and makes mistakes. Unfortunately for him, his mistakes are broadcasted live to millions of people around the world and will never be forgotten. If someone from another Division I school or Division II school tripped someone, we most likely wouldn’t hear about it or would only hear about it once. Since Allen does it, though, the world immediately labels him as a Duke villain.
Grayson Allen doesn’t want to live a life in which we mark him as a villain. Grayson Allen intends to grow through his problems to become a better man, and we should support him in doing so. Now I know North Carolina fans aren’t just going to start cheering for him, and that is fine, and I understand that. All I am saying is that we need to encourage him to mature and appreciate what he does for the game of basketball.
Laettner never picked up another player, Paulus never cried and admitted he messed up, and Redick never apologized to anyone. Grayson Allen isn’t like these previous Duke villains. He is unique and different. He is a growing teenager that wants to be a better person.
I have changed my mind on Grayson Allen and can see through his mistakes. Even if you don’t end up changing your mind on him, try to realize that this is a teenager in the middle of the public eye trying to fix his bad habits while every day, people never let him forget his mistakes. Also, remember that he is one of the best basketball players in the country and you can appreciate him for that.
Best of luck to you, Grayson. You have a fan in me.