Grayson Allen’s tumultuous college career nearly came full circle.
Duke’s polarizing star was agonizingly close to ending his senior season as an NCAA tournament hero just like he did as a freshman.
When Kansas guard Svi Mykhailiuk buried a game-tying 3-pointer with 27 seconds left in Sunday’s Elite Eight instant classic, Duke put the ball in Allen’s hands and entrusted him with the opportunity to win the game. He drove right on Malik Newman, spun back left to create a sliver of space and attempted a heavily contested 14-foot jumper that banked off the glass, twice rolled around the rim and somehow spun out.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2018
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2018
That was as close as Allen would come to a fairytale ending to his Duke career, as close as he would come to leading Mike Krzyzewski to his 13th career Final Four. Newman tallied all 13 Kansas points in overtime including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:51 remaining as the top-seeded Jayhawks claimed the Midwest Regional title with an 85-81 victory over the second-seeded Blue Devils.
“It hurts,” Allen said. “We wanted to be the team at the end of the year winning. No one wants to end with a loss like that. It’s so abrupt. The end of the game comes and it’s over. So it hurts. You can’t say much more than that.”
Allen will leave Duke with a legacy as divisive and complicated as any college basketball player in recent memory. In four unforgettable years, he evolved from seldom-used benchwarmer to improbable national title-game hero, from All-American candidate to serial tripper, from polarizing villain to understated veteran.
The most fond memory Duke fans will have of Allen is his one-man surge just as the 2015 national title game appeared to be slipping away from the Blue Devils. With Duke trailing by nine points early and stars Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow saddled with foul trouble, Allen entered the game and provided a spark, scoring eight of his 16 points in the next two minutes to lift the Blue Devils back into striking distance.
How Allen will always be best known to the general public is for his series of tripping incidents during his sophomore and junior seasons. When Allen sent an opposing player tumbling for the third time in 12 months last season against Elon, he appeared to instantly realize the consequences of that lapse in judgment. He seemed resigned to the fact that he would be permanently branded a dirty player and that he had nobody to blame but himself.
Allen curtailed his tripping habit when he returned from a one-game suspension, but the rest of his junior season was a joyless grind. Nagging injuries robbed him of his former explosiveness. Duke’s lack of a point guard forced him to at times play out of position. And every collision he had with an opposing player was scrutinized on social media like the Zapruder film.
The easy thing for Allen to do after his nightmare junior season would have been to flee Duke and turn pro. His draft stock had declined considerably, but he would undoubtedly have gotten an opportunity to make an NBA roster in training camp at the very least.
To Allen’s credit, he did not take the easy way out. He came back to Duke for his senior season in hopes of improving his game, his draft stock and his reputation.
Save for a 37-point scoring barrage against Michigan State in November, Allen’s senior season was oddly uneventful. There were no headline-grabbing incidents, nothing to fuel the hatred of opposing fans besides maybe Allen’s habit of snapping his head back to try to draw a whistle when driving to the basket.
If you didn’t know Allen’s history, you’d have described in these boring terms: As a solid, dependable veteran on a team full of talented freshmen and sophomores. He finished the season second on the team in scoring and frequently displayed a senior’s knack for impacting the game in other ways whenever his shot wasn’t falling.
Allen’s maturity was on display Sunday night when he patiently answered questions about his disappointing night against Kansas.
On his near-miss at the end of regulation: “I had to get a shot up over him and tried to bank it in and it was right there, rolled out.”
On his 3-for-13 shooting performance: “Obviously I’m disappointed they didn’t go in. I would have liked to have made them, but that’s not how it goes all the time.”
And on how he’ll remember his four years at Duke: “I’ve learned so much in my four years here, coming out a completely different person and for the better. The relationships I’ve built with [Coach K], the coaches. Some of my teammates who are guys I call my brothers now, those will last for a really long time.”
The question of how Allen will be remembered by others is tougher to answer. National champ? 2,000-point scorer? Dirty player? Villain? Understated veteran?
They’re all part of his complicated Duke legacy.
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