Grayson Allen plans to pack a lot into his junior year at Duke.
He’s loading up on academic courses, with the intent of getting his degree. He wants to be a leader for the basketball team, with the goal of hanging another national championship banner.
And, Allen said, he wants to be a more mature player.
Allen is one the best players in the ACC, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday he’s one of the best in the country. But there were a few antics on the court last season that caused much angst and disdain by opposing fans for a person who comes across as soft-spoken, bright, and, yes, mature off the court.
“It’s just learning from mistakes,” Allen said. “I’d be making another mistake if I didn’t learn from it. So for me, I understand that I made mistakes.
“It was a tough time for me, my family. The negative attention I brought to the team here is not something I want to do. So for this year, it’s just being more mature. I think that comes with a lot of growth last year, which was a big time for growth for me, on the court and as a person.”
No one questions Allen’s basketball talents. The 6-foot-5 guard, who averaged 21.6 points as a sophomore, was a consensus All-ACC choice and a third-team All-America selection by the Associated Press and National Association of Basketball Coaches.
But he was reprimanded by the ACC in February when he appeared to trip Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes. Earlier in the season, he tripped Ray Spalding of Louisville after falling on the baseline.
“You can compete without doing those things,” Allen said.
This year it’s being more mature, being more controlled, and just getting back to the basketball that I love, and playing like I’m a little kid out there in my driveway.
Duke guard Grayson Allen
Allen, from Jacksonville, Fla., said he talked with former Duke stars Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick, another two players who had few friends in opposing gyms. Allen said the conversations were mostly about basketball in general, but you have to think the “I Hate Christian Laettner” angle and how Laettner handled it were discussed.
Redick, he said, advised him to “just focus on game,” which Allen plans to do.
“This year it’s being more mature, being more controlled, and just getting back to the basketball that I love, and playing like I’m a little kid out there in my driveway,” Allen said.
But Allen has to be Allen. Put him on the court and he’s fiery. He slaps the floor on defense, he charges down the lane on drives, as if relishing any contact that comes his way.
“That’s what we expect out of him, to be Grayson Allen,” sophomore Luke Kennard said. “He is who he is, and he’s going to have a great year this year.”
Allen was a part of Duke’s national championship team as a freshman, in that special recruiting class with Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. They left Duke after the 2014-15 season, after cutting down the nets, and Allen said he considered entering the NBA draft after last season.
“It’s something I really had to sit down and think about, talk to coaches here and my family at home,” he said. “Ultimately, my heart was here.”
Krzyzewski had assembled perhaps the best recruiting class in the country. And Allen liked the idea of being used to handle the ball more on this year’s team, to become a more complete player.
“We’ll be real athletic and I’ll have the opportunity to do a lot of different things,” Allen said. “Be a lead guard, distribute while still attacking. Then defensively, I can put more of a focus on defense and what I’m doing off the ball and guarding the ball. And do all that while getting a degree.”
Allen’s course load includes corporate finance, world history, Spanish, sports psychology and cultural anthropology. A member of the ACC’s All-Academic team, he said getting his degree is a goal he will complete.
Allen, who had hernia surgery after last season, may get some added rest time, Krzyzewski said, especially in the early practices. Allen was held out Saturday at Duke’s open practice at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“This year I just want to stay fresh throughout the season,” Allen said. “Our goal is to be playing through the first week of April.”