Grayson Allen has been a big story in the news the past couple week after his latest tripping incident on December 21st against Elon. As he went down to the floor on what he believed to be a hard foul, he threw his leg in a way that was very blatantly trying trip Steven Santa Ana, the player whom he felt fouled him. Apart from the act itself, a couple factors played a role in this becoming national news; the fact that Allen plays for Duke and Coach K, that he is one of the best players in college basketball, and the fact he does not hide his emotions. The biggest reason, though, is that this is the third time Grayson Allen has had an on-court tripping incident. I have read different articles on the subject, some saying he should be kicked out of college basketball, while others say he deserves some compassion. I have also read online about people talking about race as a big part of the issue. I know nothing about the background of the people writing these articles, whether they are credible or not, but I think bringing race into this is unnecessary. The only factors I believe that matter are the incident itself, how he handled himself directly after and going forward, and how he performs on the basketball court. I am not here to debate the facts of what happened, whether he was right or wrong, whether it would be different if he were not a white, male athlete from Duke, or anything like that. The one thing I would like to say is that, if I was a general manager, coach, or player in the NBA, I would want Grayson Allen on my team.
Grayson Allen was the 25th, 28th, and 21st ranked recruit in the Class of 2014 high school basketball rankings on 247 Sports, Rivals, and ESPN respectively. Grayson Allen was a McDonalds All-American in 2014, where he also won the dunk contest, along with many other honors in high school, including state champion for Providence School in Jacksonville, Florida. Although Grayson did not play much his freshman season, he came on huge in the NCAA Tournament and was one of the big reasons the Duke Blue Devils were able to capture the 2015 National Championship, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes. Grayson Allen returned for his sophomore year and earned numerous All-American recognitions at the end of the season. Grayson also earned All-ACC Academic Team both his freshman and sophomore years. Although his shoot percentages are down a little this year, he stills looks like the same confident player. He may not live up to his “Preseason ACC-Player of the Year,” recognition, but he is still helping lead one of the best, but injury riddled teams, in the country. He was widely projected as a first round pick had he entered the 2016 NBA Draft, and this most recent incident may drop him into either the second round, undrafted, or may force him to return to Duke for his senior year. DraftExpress is the only mock draft site I looked at that still has Grayson in their first round.
If I were a GM, coach or player, I would be trying to do all the convincing I could to get my team to draft him. Most of Duke’s recent superstars have gotten labeled as villains, which mostly have to do with them playing at Duke, with JJ Reddick and Grayson Allen being probably the two most well known examples. Being a white player at Duke seems to accentuate that hatred in the public’s eye. Christian Laettner, once voted as the most hated college basketball player in history, was just as well known for being hated as he was known for his basketball talent. Laettner did have an incident in 1992 of stomping on another player, but some of that hatred came from being a Duke Blue Devil. Jay Williams, one of the better players in the Duke program history who also happens to be black, was once quoted as saying, “No other black player from any other school is hated as much as a white player from Duke. None.” Duke also has not had a ton of players drafted high in the NBA Draft. Recently Coach K has embraced the one and done recruit who end up as lottery picks in the NBA Draft, but that is only in the past 3 or 4 years. A lot of Duke’s players stay for 4 years, and are generally regarded as “smart” players, rather than elite athletes with high NBA potential. Despite this, lots of Duke players have had NBA success. Josh McRoberts, the Plumlee brothers, JJ Reddick, Carlos Boozer, Seth Curry, Kyle Singler, Ryan Kelly are all pretty recent Duke superstars who, in my opinion, have all drastically outplayed their draft positions, and I expect Grayson Allen to do the same.
- Grayson Allen is smart. He graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA, was his student body vice president in high school and was All-ACC Academic Team his first two years at Duke University, which was recently named the number 8 school in the country by U.S. News in their Best National University Rankings. Grayson also seems like a knowledgeable, religious person, shown/demonstrated by the frequent Bible verses he tweets.
- Grayson did not make his high school varsity team as a freshman. He did not start for his AAU team, and he barely got playing time until the NCAA Tournament of his freshman year. He is used to being an underdog.
- The combination of his shooting ability and athleticism, he projects at worst, a three and D type player in the NBA. He may not have quite the shooting ability JJ Reddick or Jimmer Fredette had in college, but Grayson is easily/considerably more athletic than both of them, which should translate to a starter in the NBA.
- I certainly do not look at the Grayson tripping incidents as a positive, but, watching him play, I can see that he has a real passion for the game. Seeing Grayson leave the court upset and angry after the Elon game, with his head under a towel and close to tears in a post-game interview, shows that this matters to him. What is not clear is whether he was sorry, embarrassed, or just mad, in general. The fact that Grayson was also able to give the answers to the media that makes him seem apologetic in an interview after the game means little to nothing. Johnny Manziel was able to say all the right things after his college incidents, and we know how that worked out. Given that Grayson was able to man up, apologize face-to-face to Santa Ana and quietly and humbly accept his punishment seems to show that he is apologetic and accepts responsibility for his behavior.
- This attribute goes with along with the passion but remember that Grayson is only 21 years old. How many of us, at 19, were thrust into the national spotlight for one of the most recognizable coaches and programs in sports history? Let’s be honest; many of us, myself included, would probably have also popped up in the media for the wrong reasons, and for some of us, perhaps more often than Grayson Allen has, or for getting caught doing a lot worse. In a world where social media now makes it impossible to hide, Grayson has not had any other indiscretions. I’m not saying that we should be happy or celebrating that he hasn’t had a DUI, hit a woman, abused drugs, or a host of other despicable crimes we see athletes and celebrities committing on an almost daily basis. Grayson Allen is getting all this backlash for 3 tripping incidents that, admittedly, should not have happened, but let’s face reality; Grayson is not even coming close to cracking the top 1,000 list of awful things athletes have done in 2016. Grayson is 21 years old!!! He, like every other college kid in the country, is going to make mistakes. I would rather they be these sorts of mistakes, momentary lapses that come in the heat of the moment, in the middle of an intense, passionate game of basketball that can easily be overcome. Grayson strikes me as the kind of person who, if an opponent gave a cheap shot to someone on his team, he would be the first one to have your back. And I think Grayson understands (and probably respects) why his opponents defended his victims.
- The best lacrosse player I ever coached was an 18 year old named Nick who sometimes thought he had all the answers. I can vividly remember, at the end of an important game, calling a play, and he changed it the second the timeout ended. His way did not work out, but who knows if mine would have either. While I was angry at the time, I spoke to him the next day about why he did it. His answer was, “Because whether we won or lost, I wanted it to be on me. I couldn’t handle the thought of not being the one making a difference.” When I first saw Grayson Allen play in the 2015 NCAA tournament, before knowing anything about him, I thought appearance-wise he looked just like Nick. After watching them both play more, even though they are in different sports, they really do remind me of one another. I would take an intense, confident attitude like that any day, especially when it is coming from a young, smart, talented, passionate kid. Most people at that young age think they have all the answers. That’s okay. I expect both of these young athletes, with their elite physical gifts and sharp intellects, to grow as people and mature into responsible, successful adults, given a little extra latitude and unconditional support. Grayson Allen will learn soon enough, when he gets to the NBA, that LeBron is not going to take that from him. Grayson’s pro teammates and coaches will quickly put him in place, if something like those collegiate tripping incidents ever happen again. Who you are at 21 is not who you will be at 25. I expect Grayson Allen to mature as the years go on, and I believe he will learn from his mistakes. He may never become an NBA All-Star, but whether he is your starting shooting guard, or the 12th man on the bench, I expect Grayson to give 100% every time he suits up and make everyone around him glad he is on their team.
Grayson Allen returned to the Duke Blue Devil’s lineup on January 4th, after serving a one game suspension, although Coach K stripped him of his captaincy. In his second game back, on December 7th, there was another “incident.” With a pick being set on him, that he may or may not have seen, Allen kicked his leg up. It was similar to the reactions Draymond Green seems to do that have gotten Green in trouble. There was no foul called on the play with Allen and the ACC came out and said “there is nothing conclusive that can be determined,” as to whether or not it was intentional. I do not believe it was intentional. If you bump into someone you do not see, you sometimes make involuntary actions. That said, Allen needs to realize he is under a microscope, with many opponents and fans of other teams wanting to see him fail. Allen needs to be more careful in his actions. Another incident that is deemed intentional will likely see him receive a much lengthier suspension. With Duke likely to be playing deep into March Madness, one can only assume Allen wants to be apart of the ride and one of the main reasons that Duke is there.