Duke's Grayson Allen on his decision to stay at Duke
There isn't much time left for Grayson Allen at Duke, no matter what happens Sunday. The final of four tumultuous, controversial, triumphant, complicated, occasionally self-destructive and historically productive seasons is coming to an end.
And still, after 141 games for Duke, so much still hangs in the balance for Allen.
One game, against Kansas with a trip to the Final Four on the line, offers a last chance to write a new final chapter to his career by leading a young team to the Final Four, just as he was led as a freshman.
Or it will close the book on his career with an unsatisfactory ending, which would not taint his legacy at Duke but will leave him without a chance to put some kind of punctuation on it.
As always with Allen, nothing about this is simple. But it is a chance to finish strong: to close out a career full of parabolic ups and downs, of microscopic, frame-grabbing scrutiny – brought entirely, to be sure, upon himself – with a feat of accomplishment.
“I don't worry or think much about my Duke legacy,” Allen, the senior guard, said. “I just really want to win. And we've become – this group has become so close that I know what the Final Four feeling is like. I know what that national championship feeling is like. So I really want to do that with this group and have these guys experience that too.”
None of that would change anything for the public he so potently polarizes. He is not only the most scrutinized but most hated player in college basketball for reasons both within and outside his control. Even before he tripped anyone, he was already going to be viewed through a Duke-tinted lens that is inescapable, even if he chose it.
Such is the lot of a star at Duke, unavoidably an icon of basketball privilege at a private school. That comes with the territory, and it's not limited to Allen, even if he came to embody it.
“There's a long list of white Duke basketball players who have been lightning rods,” Allen said. “That's just how it is, how it is throughout the country. I didn't fully understand it before I came to Duke. I do now. … No one likes to get booed. No one likes to get cussed out. No one likes to get yelled 'F you' by 20,000 fans when you go places.”
To whatever degree some or all of that is out of his control, there's also no question that some of this remains within his control. He will exit Duke, whatever the circumstances, as a distinguished four-year player, one with a chance to move into Duke's all-time top 10, no low bar to clear. Leading a team of freshmen to a Final Four, or a national title, won't change any minds away from Duke, but it would cement his reputation at Duke, where he is revered instead of reviled.
Even if the ACC tournament hip-check was an unfortunate moment at a time when it appeared Allen had moved past such impulsiveness, there's still time to move further beyond that, with a win Sunday that extends the season and extends his career while moving him closer to a title and away from the past.
“Some of these things that happened with Grayson, were they not good? Yeah,” Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel said. “But they're not the end of the world. They're teachable moments.”
Nothing can change what's happened, for better or worse. Players tripped cannot be untripped. Games won have still been won. Those who dislike Allen will still dislike him. Those who love him will still love him. But he has the chance, with a win Sunday, to write a new ending, to put all of that behind him, to the extent that he can, and lead this team forward, as he was once led, before he became the player he has become, fame and notoriety and stardom and villainy, all rolled into one.
He has the chance to bring his career full circle. That opportunity is out there for him, a second chance at a second act.