There was a time Grayson Allen was one of the least heralded players for Duke basketball.
He was certainly the least popular member of a freshman class that included Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, who each declared for the NBA after winning a national championship in 2015. Allen was third off the bench in an eight-man rotation.
Going into the final game against Wisconsin on April 6, 2015, Allen averaged four points. When his named was called as foul trouble burdened Okafor in the second half, the 6-5 guard delivered to help capture a 68-63 title victory over the Badgers.
Allen finished with 16 points, his most in the postseason that year, and All-Tournament honors as part of a historic freshman group.
Duke has proven what gifted freshmen can be capable of in the postseason. Even though the current class is jelling at the perfect time, the Blue Devils, as they prepare to open the NCAA tournament Friday, can also lean on a trio of veterans.
Allen, graduate student forward Amile Jefferson and senior guard Matt Jones have 29 NCAA games between them.
Seventh-ranked Duke (27-8) will open in Greenville, S.C., as the No. 2 seed against No. 15-seeded Troy (22-14) at Bon Secours Wellness Arena at 7:20 p.m.
While the experience of Allen, Jefferson and Jones is vital, Allen, a junior, has had the greatest impact in tournament games because of his heroic performance in the title game.
He cut Wisconsin’s nine-point lead with 13:17 left in the game to 51-47. A drive inside the six-minute mark gave Duke its first second-half edge.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native didn’t get any starts his freshman year behind the talented freshmen threesome. Allen started in all games but one his sophomore season, including the three Duke played in the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 22.3 points a game and was the ACC’s second-leading scorer with 21.6 overall.
“Grayson, Amile and Matt, they were on the court when we came back and beat Wisconsin in front of 73,000 people,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said at October’s ACC basketball media day in Charlotte. “They’ve been through tough games. Matt Jones, basically his shooting (60 percent for 16 points) in the Gonzaga game, Amile Jefferson guarding (Wisconsin forward Frank) Kamisky, Grayson and obviously what he did.”
Allen averaged 3.6 points in the five NCAA games leading up to the 2015 final, finishing 10-of-24 from the field through the tourney.
Jefferson and Jones each have played 10 NCAA games, and Jones has three starts from last year, when Duke fell, 82-68, to Oregon in the Sweet 16 in Anaheim, Calif.
Jefferson, Duke’s starting forward, has one start from when the Blue Devils fell to Mercer in the first round in 2014.
The 6-9 captain has averaged 2.1 points in tournament games. He averaged a double-double the nine games he played last year before a season-ending foot injury.
Fellow captain Jones has averaged 5.2 points and in 2015 played 163 minutes, the most among these three veterans in the tournament that season.
Sophomore Luke Kennard posted 10.3 points in his three tournament games, which were all starts.
“It’s a good group in that we not only have older players, but we have older really good players who have already established themselves,” Krzyzewski said.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan