Grayson Allen, Duke’s first commitment from the class of 2014, has never been shy about naming his dream school.
“He wanted to play for Duke as a seventh grader, he would say that,” said his shooting coach, Tommy Hulihan. “He’s always loved Duke.”
Allen, a four-star, 6-foot-4, 185 pound shooting guard from Jacksonville (Fla.) Providence High, fulfilled a childhood dream when he committed to Duke last week.
Unlike many top recruits, Allen, who is ranked No. 36 in ESPN’s top 60, didn’t drag out his decision. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistants Steve Wojciechowski and Jeff Capel visited Allen’s home in mid-April, and Krzyzewski extended him an offer. Less than two weeks later, Allen committed to joining the Blue Devils.
It was the end of a recruiting process that began with an out-of-the-blue phone call.
“I picked up the phone and cold-called coach James, Nate James,” said Jim Martin, the coach at Providence. “I said, ‘coach, I’ve got a kid who is getting recruited, and Duke is his dream school. You probably get this kind of call all the time, but the kid is good.’ ”
Martin told James that Allen, then a sophomore, had drawn interest from schools like Florida and Florida State and then gave James the summer tournament schedule for the Southern Stampede, Allen’s AAU team.
Allen had played well that spring, refining his shot and expanding his range, and that play continued into the summer, when he began receiving national attention.
ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep first met Allen last July. The first thing Allen told him, Telep said, was that he wanted to become good enough to go to Duke.
“He’s a little bit under the radar, as far as a national recruit goes,” Telep said. “This is a guy that is equal parts basketball player and athlete. Sometimes we just label these Duke guys as shooters, but this guy is a basketball player.
“He knows his way around the court, has huge hands, he can pass – this is a multiple position player for Duke. They’re going to be able to use him in a number of spots. He can handle the ball a little bit, and he can play some (shooting guard) and play some (small forward) a little bit. He’s really a versatile guy.”
Allen was “lights-out,” to use Martin’s words, when James saw him play in Virginia, and he was impressive when Wojciechowski came to see him last November during the school season.
“I told Steve (Wojciechowski) one time that I need you guys more often,” Martin joked. “Every time Duke was in the audience, he played well.”
Providence entered the Florida 3A semifinals with a 33-1 record, with the only loss coming when Allen sat out with an ankle injury. In the final two games, Allen averaged 29 points, shooting 51.7 percent, including 53.8 percent from 3-point range as his team won the state championship.
After the season ended, Allen continued to work in the gym. He frequently loses track of time during his workouts, Martin said, finding a zone and going for hours.
Last year was all about gaining confidence, Hulihan said, and seeing that he can play as well on the national stage as he can back at home. This summer will be about continuing to hone his shot and expand his range, as well as working on his point guard skills, increasing his versatility.
Krzyzewski praised Allen’s work ethic and desire to get better during the in-home visit, Martin said. He talked with Allen about the history of the program, pointing out that players like Wojciechowski and Capel had helped build Duke into what it is today and that he, too, could continue that tradition while leaving his own mark.
Krzyzewski told Allen about the brotherhood between the current players and how they were similar to the hard-working Allen. Martin and his wife were in the room with Allen and his family. Martin was impressed with the presentation. He said his wife got goose bumps during the pitch.
“I’ve coached for 20 years, and there are some great coaches out there, and I don’t know if I’ve ever had that feeling,” Martin said.
“You know the Duke tradition, the basketball part of it, but then when you’re in there and get to meet them as people, they’re just as impressive with all of those things. That’s why they’re able to recruit as well as they do, because they send a great message as well.”
Allen promised his mother that he would think and pray about his college decision, which kept him from committing on the spot. But it didn’t take long for him to decide to turn his childhood dream into a reality.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley