Duke’s Grayson Allen was booed every time he touched the ball Saturday at Louisville, which is life on the road for Allen this season.
The junior guard is constantly reminded of his antics – tripping opposing players – caused by his fiery competitiveness and quick-twitch reactions that come off churlish and have made him the “bad boy” of college basketball. It resulted in a reprimand from the ACC last year and suspension by Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski this season.
Among those watching from afar has been Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, who can relate in a way to Allen. He, too, is fiery, competitive. He, too, has let his temper get the best of him at times.
In March 2012, Skinner was suspended for two games by the NHL. Battling for the puck along the boards with Scott Nichol of the St. Louis Blues, Skinner was knocked to the ice, then angrily used his right skate to push Nichol away from him.
It was a “heat of the moment” play but also a dangerous one, and Nichol was fortunate he was not injured. In issuing the suspension, the NHL noted Skinner had recently received a warning from the league for slewfooting a player, the hockey equivalent of an intentional trip.
On a personal and professional level, it was embarrassing for Skinner, then 19. It’s also something that has not been repeated, which Skinner said comes with maturity and the determination to better control his emotions.
“It’s one of those things where you always want to walk the line of recognizing that you want to keep emotion in your game and keep that passion alive where it helps your game,” Skinner said. “But sometimes for me as a young player you walk that line and it can get the better of you. I think as you grow and experience things, you’re able to have a little bit more perspective on things because you’ve seen them before.”
Experience helps because you’ve seen situations and you put yourself in better spots and you’re able to react to situations better.
The Canes’ Jeff Skinner
As Skinner put it, so much in hockey happens quickly. You make plays instinctively.
On the play with Nichol, Skinner was knocked off the puck and wasn’t happy about it. In a flash, he kicked Nichol away, making contact with Nichol’s leg.
“It was a reactionary play,” he said. “It’s an emotional game, it’s fast-paced, and you don’t have time to think.”
Allen, after twice tripping players in ACC games last season and receiving a reprimand from the league, said before this season that he had learned a hard lesson. He said the incidents were embarrassing for him, his family and the school.
Then, it happened again. In a Dec. 22 game in Greensboro, Allen tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana as Santa Ana attempted to drive the baseline, kicking out his right leg. Krzyzewski suspended Allen for one game.
Skinner’s suspension in 2012 is his only one. He’s now 24, a veteran player.
“Experience helps because you’ve seen situations and you put yourself in better spots and you’re able to react to situations better,” Skinner said.
Skinner realizes the scrutiny is intense, especially for star players. There’s always that spotlight, especially in the ACC.
“I know one thing, UNC, Duke and N.C. State basketball gets a lot of media attention,” Skinner said. “There’s a lot of pressure on those guys at a young age.”
Allen just turned 21. He’ll be playing in the NBA soon and the scrutiny will continue.
“It’s just one of those things that as you grow and have more experience you’re able to react differently,” Skinner said. “For me, you try to take opportunities, good or bad, to learn from as you grow older. That benefits you in the long run.”