In prepping for his final public appearance at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a Duke student, Grayson Allen received a tip from his mother to control his emotions.
“(Here’s) a quote my mom sent me today to help my not cry while I was up here,” Allen said during his senior speech at Duke’s basketball banquet Thursday night. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
With all the good and the bad that’s happened in his Duke basketball career, Allen is smiling now. After helping Duke to a 29-8 record and an NCAA tournament Elite Eight appearance, he’ll graduate next month and continue his preparation for the NBA Draft in June.
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He did get emotional during one part of his speech, though. His voice caught and he paused to compose himself when addressing the actions that made him college basketball’s No. 1 villain, the three times when he was caught tripping opposing players during games.
Two incidents during ACC games in February 2016 drew him a public reprimand from the league office.
The last one, in December 2016 against Elon, drew him a one-game suspension from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and the loss of his team captaincy for the remainder of his junior season.
“Probably the toughest part about my four years here was that there was a time when I was almost broken down to where you don’t feel like you have much,” Allen said. “You don’t feel like you have much that’s important. You feel like everything is going wrong. What is left? Who are you? Who is Grayson Allen? I still thank God for my four years because I found my identity in who I am. I found my identity in Christ. When everything else around me was falling down I found my identity in God. I found the love that all my teammates had for me. I found the love that this Duke family, this Duke coaching staff, had for me. That’s what sticks out to me because I know who I am today.”
Allen was part of a national championship as a freshman in 2015, scoring 16 points off the bench in Duke’s 68-63 NCAA tournament final game win over Wisconsin.
He was an All-American as a sophomore when he averaged 21.6 points per game.
In introducing Allen for his speech Thursday night, Krzyzewski pointed out some other facts about his controversial guard:
- Only three Duke players have been all-ACC academic four years: Amile Jefferson, Quin Snyder, Grayson Allen
- Five players have scored 1,900 points, 400 rebounds, 400 assists: Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Jon Scheyer, Grant Hill, Grayson Allen
- -Six players have been an All-American and Academic All-American: Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, Mason Plumlee, Grayson Allen.
Still, Allen knows his on-court antics cloud his legacy.
“My four years have been very up and down,” Allen said. “It’s probably the best example of a roller-coaster career that you can have. That’s probably what has allowed me to grow. Mainly it allowed me to realize who I really am and who I am inside. I think everyone here knows why my sophomore and junior years were very tough years for me personally, battling injuries and distractions and a whole lot of booing.”
Krzyzewski, speaking again after Allen’s speech, corrected his player one more time .
“Don’t ever use the term roller-coaster for your career,” Krzyzewski said. “C’mon man. I wish I was on that ride. My coach told me he’d break my arm if I shot. He usually backed up his word. My arms have never been broken.
“Yours has been a skyrocket. Look, there are bumps in the road. On a journey to anything that is really good, there are obstacles. It wouldn’t be really good unless there were. Otherwise everybody would go in this damn journey. Everybody would win a national championship. Everyone would be one of five or one of six or one of two. It ain’t easy because there are limits that we have and that we have to change. When we are open to change in the limits and also open to the process that’s needed to change them and trust somebody or somebodies enough to do it, it’s success. You have been one of the most successful players in the history of this program.”
As for all the boos and hate that Allen absorbed as a Duke player, Krzyzewski offered an alternative.
“Please don’t confuse hate with envy,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not sure people hated you as much as they wished you were on their team. In fact, I’m sure, and it’s something that happens with our program. We’re either the most loved or the most hated because a lot of people wish that their team was us. But they are not. We are this university’s team, and you have represented this university’s team in an amazing fashion.”
Allen said he wouldn’t have made it through his four years at Duke without Krzyzewski’s guidance. He remembered one conversation they had in particular.
“He basically told me just forget all the people who want to say negative things,” Allen said. “Forget all of them. I don’t play the game for them. I play the game for the love that’s in my heart, and as long as that’s still there, I can go out there with nothing to fear.
“Coach has been a great example of doing that his whole career, going out there and coaching the best program in the U.S. against boos. I’m glad I have coach as my leader to guide me through these four years because I don’t think I would have made it through if it had been different. Coach has taught me to really trust what’s inside you, to trust the passion and faith that’s inside you and just go for it.”