Luke DeCock

On senior night, one Duke player remains from a championship class

Duke's Krzyzewski praises senior Grayson Allen

Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski praises senior Grayson Allen on eve of his final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski praises senior Grayson Allen on eve of his final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

DURHAM When Grayson Allen takes the microphone after Saturday night's game against North Carolina, win or lose, he will be in some respects an artifact of something from the past. Allen, as a freshman, won a national title alongside three other freshmen, all of whom are long gone.

The other three – Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow – exited for the NBA after that season. Allen stuck around, to this final game. He alone will be honored for his time at Duke. And yet that time reached its highest point, so far, with a national championship won in 2015 alongside classmates who are merely memories at this point.

Just as Justin Jackson was the missing figure on Tuesday when North Carolina honored Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, that trio of champions will be conspicuous by their absence Saturday night.

Such is the world of modern college basketball. Former Kentucky player Karl-Anthony Towns tweeted earlier this week that it was senior night for his team for the one season he played for the Wildcats, 38-1 and stopped one game short of facing Duke in the title game in 2015.

So while it's Allen's last game at Cameron, it's also almost certainly the last game in Cameron for several of his non-senior teammates, from Marvin Bagley III to Wendell Carter Jr. to Gary Trent Jr. to Trevon Duval.

“That's a change, yeah,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That's a change. You would like to see them here the whole time, but you'd also like to see them be successful in what they're doing, and those guys are.”

If anything, it's surprising North Carolina and Duke had three senior stars to honor among them. Even beyond the one-and-dones, how many really good college players stay four years the way Allen and Berry and Pinson have? They are among the very few of a diminishing breed, and yet all three won ACC and national titles before this season. What, really, did they have left to prove?

Flanked by Grayson Allen, far left, and Matt Jones, far right, Duke freshman Justise Winslow, center left, and Jahlil Okafor, enjoy the welcome home celebration in Durham in front of thousands. The Duke Blue Devils basketball team returned to campus heroes on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 after winning the NCAA National Championship in Indianapolis the night before against the Wisconsin Badgers. Corey Lowenstein

They came back for this, for the experience of being a senior, to give these speeches, to see it through to the end in an era when the lure of the NBA has never been stronger for players in elite conferences like the ACC.

Their final regular-season Duke-North Carolina game is a reward for their persistence: once more into the breach of the rivalry – a ninth meeting for Berry and Allen, high school friends turned college enemies – and just as they are richer for it, so are we.

“It’s really an amazing rivalry that when you’re outside, you know it’s great and then when you get inside the rivalry, when you become a part of it, you realize it’s even bigger than you thought,” Allen said. “It’s even more intense than you thought and the atmosphere around it is unmatched.”

Fans get that, because their memories go back years, even decades. It's hard for a player to truly understand that in a single season. It probably takes these eight or nine spins through the wringer to understand it as well as Berry and Allen and Pinson do.

Not many players take that opportunity these days. They're off to the NBA at first light, as Bagley and Carter and Trent and Duval almost certainly will be, same as their predecessors in 2015 while Allen is honored without them. This is as close as they will get. It isn't the same.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947,, @LukeDeCock