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Markel Starks is out to prove people wrong for overlooking him, Georgetown this year

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — McDonough Memorial Gymnasium is a relic, a 2,500 seat “arena” that was built on Georgetown’s campus back in the early 1950s. Complete with bleacher seating and a row of doors 20 feet from the baseline, McDonough harkens back to the days before anyone on the Hilltop had heard of John Thompson Jr. or Hoya Paranoia. The gym feels much more like a place to catch a high school game than a Big East contest.

These days, McDonough is generally reserved for volleyball and women’s basketball while the men play across town at the Verizon Center, but it’s still where John Thompson III hosts practice. And it’s still where Georgetown raises banners. When you walk into McDonough and look up at the rafters on your right, you’ll those banners, commemorating trips to the NCAA tournament.

And nothing else.

Since the Hoyas made the 2007 Final Four, Georgetown has gone 2-5 in the NCAA tournament, failing to make it past the first weekend in each of their trips. Making matters worse is the fact that the Hoyas have lost to a team with a double-digit seed in each of those tournament trips: No. 10 Davidson in 2008, No. 14 Ohio in 2010, No. 11 VCU in 2011, No. 11 N.C. State in 2012. It culminated this past season with Georgetown’s most embarrassing loss yet, a whooping at the hands of No. 15 Florida-Gulf Coast, an upset that Georgetown has spent all offseason hearing about.

Being the reason a Cinderella becomes the biggest story in sports is not pleasant.

Gaining a reputation as the trendy upset pick in March is not a legacy to boast about.

(MORE: Check out the NBCSports.com Big East Preview. Where does Georgetown rank?)

“I’m sick of looking up at those banners, not having any letters under it,” said senior point guard Markel Starks. “I have high expectations, not only for myself, but for this team. Every day I have to come in here and look up there, and there’s nothing there. So for me, as a leader of this team, it’s heartbreaking.”

It’s a trend that Starks, who was named to the Preseason All-Big East team, has spent all offseason stewing over. He’ll be a senior this season. His college basketball career is over this spring, and the last thing he wants is for his career to come to a close with yet another upset early in the tournament.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Starks said. “I’ve had fun, through the good and the bad, and I want this senior year to be a good one. But when I think of guys that I really looked up to, the guys that came before me: Roy Hibbert, out in the second round. Chris Wright, out in the first round. Not to take anything away from their career, but I want to leave a legacy. I want to leave on a positive note.”

“Deep in the Big Dance. That’s what it’s about.”

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Georgetown is known for the big men they produce. Under the elder Thompson, those bigs were hall of famers like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. Under JT3, we’ve seem names like Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe and Otto Porter work their way into the first round of the NBA Draft. Even Henry Sims managed to play his way onto an NBA roster.

The Hoyas may have another in their midst this season, as UCLA transfer Josh Smith has been granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. He’ll be playing on Friday, when the Hoyas take on Oregon at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, which gives JT3 an all-american caliber talent in the post if Smith is capable of playing 25 minutes a night.

The big men get most of the attention because of their success at the professional level, but for the Hoyas, it’s just as important for them to have excellent guard play as it is for them to have NBA players in the post. Think about the best Hoyas teams in recent seasons: Hibbert and Green had Jonathon Wallace. Monroe had Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. Sims had Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson.

That’s the role that Starks will play, and he’s talented enough to thrive as one of Georgetown’s primary offensive weapons.

Hell, if you ask him, he may tell you that he’s the best point guard in the country.

“It’s an honor, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s humbling. I feel like I had an outstanding year,” Starks said of receiving all-Big East honors and being named to the Cousy Watch list. “I want to win that award. It’s one of my goals. I haven’t received a lot of the other point guard accolades that I think I should have. I’m ready to check some names off this year. People need to know who I am.”

Starks made sure to run down the public relations checklist, saying that he didn’t want to take anything away from other talented point guards in the Big East and across the country, but having a conversation with him, it’s quite clear that he truly does have the confidence that he can go up against — and outplay — any point guard in the country. The fact that he more than held his own at the Kyrie Irving Point Guard Skills Academy back in June only solidified that believe.

At that camp, Starks went up against the likes of Kevin Pangos, Jahii Carson, Shabazz Napier, Semaj Christon, Justin Cobbs and even Irving. I was there for part of it. Starks more than belonged on that court; there were times that he thrived.

“Those guys deserve all the accolades that they get. But I can play, too. I can really play, too,” he said. “At times, you may not be able to see everything that I can do, but at the camps, I feel like that I outplayed a lot of the guys that get top level accolades. I’ll see some of those guys this year, and that’s where I want to do my talking.”

But it was a conversation with one of those point guards that has really kept things in perspective for Starks. He had a chance to talk with Aaron Craft, the Ohio State point guard that makes up for what he lacks in physical tools and natural scoring ability with leadership, toughness and defensive.

Most importantly, Starks said, Craft’s teams have played deep into March. He’s made a Sweet 16, a Final Four and an Elite 8, and could very well make it that far once again this season.

“Craft gets a lot of [press] because he’s a winner,” Starks said. “He’s a flat-out winner.”

Starks wants to prove that he belongs in the same conversation as the best point guards in the country. He wants to make people look silly for overlooking him. He wants to make us regret not including him on this list of top 20 point guards. He wants to put up the points and hand out the assists and throw the no-look passes and be the big man on campus.

Every athlete does.

But he also knows that will only get you so far if you can’t win when it counts.

“Doesn’t matter what you do individually, if you’re not winning?” Starks said. “You have to win ball-games. On the big stage. I can sit here and ramble on, but I gotta do it in the big lights. It’s not just big games during the season, it’s in the dance.”

George Washington tabs Maurice Joseph interim head coach

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George Washington announced on Tuesday that Maurice Joseph has been named interim head coach for the 2016-17 season.

“I am eager and well prepared to begin this journey with the 13 student-athletes in our locker room and the tight-knit group of coaches that I will rely upon heavily,” said Joseph. “It is a distinct honor to have the opportunity to be a mentor to our team in this new role. I have the utmost confidence that I will validate the trust that Provost Maltzman and Patrick Nero have placed in me, and that we will deliver a product that makes our students, alumni and fans across the globe proud of GW Basketball and the university.”

Joseph has been a part of the GW coaching staff for the last five years, a full-time assistant for the last three.

He takes over for Mike Lonergan, who coached Joseph for three years at Vermont. Lonergan was fired two weeks ago stemming from an investigation into allegations of abuse.

Lonergan’s other two assistants, Hajj Turner and Carmen Marciariello, both were interviewed for the position as well, according to sources. Turner had been Lonergan’s associate head coach for the past five years, since Lonergan took over at GW.

“In his five years at GW, Maurice has shown himself to be selflessly dedicated to the success of our student-athletes and fully committed to our department and university,” said Nero, GW’s athletic director. “His leadership ability and basketball acumen will bring focus and stability to the talented team we have this year. Our team, basketball staff and athletic department are looking forward to working together for a successful season.”

2016-17 CBT Expert Picks

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hugs Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils after he fouled out against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their 84-79 overtime loss during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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We are now less than six weeks away from the start of the college basketball season, which means that it is time for us to officially get our picks on the record.

Here, our four writers pick who we think will win each league, the national title and the major awards:

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CBT Podcast: Listen as we put together the NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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We figured that it wasn’t enough just to simply list out who was on our All-America teams and who was our National Player of the Year, not when the decision is so wide open. Not when there are so many worthwhile candidates.

So while you can go and see the NBCSports.com Preseason All-American team here and you can read our feature story on Duke’s Grayson Allen, the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year, here, you can also listen along as we try to hash out just who we wanted slotted in which spot.

Because we recorded it all on a podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Audioboom or anywhere else that podcasts are given away for free.

If you enjoy what you hear on this podcast, please rate and review the podcast, as it will help us reach more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

NBCSports.com 2016-17 Preseason All-American Team

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PRESEASON NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

Picking the Preseason National Player of the Year this season was not an easy thing to do. This year’s freshman class will rival the Class of 2013 — Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, etc. — in terms of overall talent, and there are a number of newcomers entering into a situation in which they should be able to shine. Hell, there are two potential No. 1 picks and a third projected lottery pick on Duke’s roster this season, and none of them are named Grayson Allen.

But the reason we picked all for this award is actually pretty simple: He’s the best player on the best team in the country. Don’t believe me? Think about this: As a sophomore, his first season playing consistent minutes at the collegiate level, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while posting a 61.6 true shooting percentage. That hasn’t been done by a high major basketball player since 1993, which is as far back as the CBB Reference database has statistics. As far as I know, it’s never happened before by a player at the high major level. For comparison’s sake, when Damian Lillard was a senior at Weber State, he was one of the three other players to post those stats.

And Allen did it while playing in a conference that sent six teams to the Sweet 16 and two to the Final Four last season.

You may hate him, but you cannot deny that the kid can flat out play.

RELATED: A Different Shade of Grayson

Washingtons Markelle Fultz, USA Basketball
Washingtons Markelle Fultz, USA Basketball

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz was one of just two other guys that we truly considered for Preseason Player of the Year. He’s the current favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and, given Washington’s uptempo style of play, he has a chance to post massive numbers. The biggest question mark here is whether or not the Huskies are going to be good enough to dance; to win the award on a team that’s not a national title contender is hard to do. It’s only happened three times in the last two decades, and all three of those winners — Doug McDermott, Jimmer Fredette and Kevin Durant — averaged more than 26 points. McDermott and Fredette were on teams that earned No. 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart was the third player to get serious consideration for National Player of the Year. He’s the guy that is most likely to have a Buddy Hield-esque, breakout senior season. As a junior with the Wildcats, Hart averaged a team-high 15.5 points and 6.8 boards, playing an integral role in Villanova’s small-ball attack. His ability to attack the glass and playing bigger than his 6-foot-5 frame will be even more important for Jay Wright’s club this season as they deal with a lack of size on the interior, but the key for Hart’s long-term future will be his three-point shooting. He made 35.7 percent of his threes last season and 46.4 percent the season before, but that was on relatively limited attempts and his flat shot and awkward release makes it tough to project him as a floor-spacer at the next level. Did he put in the work this offseason to make a jump the way Hield did last season?

Josh Jackson, Kansas: Jackson was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2016 by a number of outlets, and there are still people that believe he’ll eventually be the best NBA player out of this group. A freak athlete like Andrew Wiggins, Jackson is a bit more polished and a whole lot tougher than Wiggins was a freshman. It’s not crazy to think that he can match Wiggins’ output (17.7 points, 5.9 boards, nation’s top perimeter defender), and considering Kansas is a preseason top five team, that puts him firmly in the All-America discussion. But here’s what will limit him: If Carlton Bragg makes the improvement many expect him to, Jackson’s offense may be cut into, and considering there are a pair of alpha-dogs that will be the guys called on to make big shots in key moments, it’s hard to see him having any “Wooden Moments”.

Ivan Rabb, California: We went with Rabb as the nation’s best big man this season. Like Fultz, Rabb could end up playing on a team that doesn’t reach the NCAA tournament. That’s concerning, but there’s a real chance that Rabb could end up averaging 18 points and 10 boards this season. Last season as a freshman, he averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 boards playing as a tertiary option on the offensive end. He would have been a lottery pick had he opted to declare for June’s NBA Draft.

TCU guard Michael Williams (2) defends as Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) leaps to the basket for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. Morris had 18 points and six assists and No. 19 Iowa State followed a win over top-ranked Oklahoma with a 73-60 victory over TCU on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Iowa State guard Monte Morris (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris is in an interesting situation this season. For the past three years, he’s defined himself as the model of point guard efficiency, a facilitator who makes big shots when he has to but who excelled as running a team and creating for the guys around him. This year? That talent around him is depleted, meaning Morris will be asked to become more of a volume scorer. We expect him to embrace that role and excel in it.

Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Smith tore his ACL last August, forcing him to miss his senior season of high school. But the injury meant that he was able to graduate high school early, enroll in college in January and spend the majority of his rehab time doing so with the Wolfpack trainers. The result? He’s returned from the injury as good as new, which is important considering the fact that so much of what makes Smith dangerous is his explosiveness. A potential top five pick, Smith is talented enough that he could take a perennially under-achieving team to the NCAA tournament.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: You may not recognize this name. A former top 30 recruit, Williams-Goss transferred out of Washington after an all-Pac 12 season as a sophomore. He sat out last year as a transfer and will step in to the starting point guard role this season. Gonzaga lost Kyle Wiltjer and Domas Sabonis, but with the talent they have returning — and becoming eligible this season — the Zags have the look of a top ten team, and we expect Williams-Goss to be their engine.

Austin Nichols, Virginia: Nichols is going to be the star for this year’s Virginia team, which is once again a contender for the ACC title. As a sophomore at Memphis, the former McDonald’s All-American averaged 13.4 points, 6.7 boards and 3.4 blocks. He spent last season redshirting at Virginia and learning the system, which he is a perfect fit for. He’s a better big man that Anthony Gill, and Anthony Gill was one of the most underrated players in the country last season.

Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is another guy that had a chance to be a first round pick last season but opted to return to school. He had a promising first year in Bloomington, but it came with typical freshman mistakes: He was lost early in the year, especially on the defensive end. But Bryant has the tools, he plays extremely hard and he’s young for his grade; he was born five months after Josh Jackson.

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (AP Photo/John Locher)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Health is the big question with Brooks, and the reason that he’s a third-teamer instead of being in contention for the first team. Brooks has a foot injury, one that Oregon has already said could keep him out at the start of the season. If healthy, he’s a junior that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists last season for a preseason top five team.

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame had a chance to leave college and head to the NBA Draft this spring, but he opted to return to school for his senior season. Blossomgame is certainly talented enough to be on this list — he averaged 18.7 points last season — but without the hype of a guy like Smith or Fultz, will he be able to get the Tigers to be a good enough team that people will play attention to him?

Jayson Tatum, Duke: The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country, and trying to predict where production is going to come from in that offense is tough. Tatum is one of the best pure scorers in college basketball this season, but there’s a real possibility he could end up being the third or fourth leading scorer on this team. The good news? Jabari Parker and Brandon Ingram thrived in the role he’ll play. The bad news? Harry Giles III may be the best player on Duke come March.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso: Peters is the best player at the mid-major level in the country, a kid that graduated from school in three years and had the chance to leave for literally any other program in the country. He didn’t. He opted to stay at Valpo, where he’ll be the centerpiece of new head coach Matt Lottich’s offense. It’s not crazy to think he could average 23 points.

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Who is going to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season? It’s tough to figure out, right? Our money is on Adebayo, their 6-foot-10 center. He’s a freak athletically with more of a face-up game than he gets credit for. Given the lack of perimeter shooting for the Wildcats this season, Adebayo will be asked to carry much of the load.

Bam Adebayo (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)

A Different Shade Of Grayson

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 20:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 20, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday morning, we released the NBCSports.com Preseason All-American Team.

We named Duke’s Grayson Allen the Preseason Player of the Year. Allen spoke exclusively to NBCSports.com about how things have changed for him in the last 18 months, going to unlikely hero to Duke star to a despised figure in college basketball.

The worst part wasn’t that he had gone from being celebrated as the surprising hero of a team that had won a national title to the Most Hated Man In College Sports.

The worst part wasn’t that he followed a path, carved by Christian Laettner and taken by J.J. Redick before him, that he never wanted to be on. It wasn’t that he couldn’t go anywhere online or watch any sports on TV without seeing, reading or hearing someone ridiculing him, or that he had heard the four most soul-crushing words any child can hear their parents say: “We’re disappointed in you.”

The worst part?

For Grayson Allen, in the midst of a year where he was playing the best basketball he had ever played and dealing with more public and personal turmoil than he had ever before dealt with, the worst part was that he knew that he had done this to himself.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


It only took two weeks for Grayson Allen to fulfill the legacy he never wanted.

It started on a Big Monday, the day after Peyton Manning had won his second Super Bowl, when the Blue Devils hosted a top ten Louisville team that was just three days removed from announcing that they would be self-imposing a postseason ban due to a burgeoning escort scandal. All eyes were now on basketball, and all college basketball fans were tuned into to this game.

And Allen, who was well on his way to a second-team NBCSports.com All-American season, delivered with a moment that immediately went viral. After getting knocked to the floor on a drive to the rim early in the second half, Allen tripped Louisville’s Ray Spalding to stop a breakaway, a move that looked intentional but was awkward enough to earn Allen the benefit of the doubt.

That benefit went away two weeks later when, in the waning seconds of a 15-point win over Florida State, Allen extended his left foot backwards, sending Xavier Rathan-Mayes sprawling to the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor. This time, there was no denying it.

It was blatant.

It was intentional.

And it set off a firestorm.

The video was posted on every website. His picture was broadcast on every sports network. ‘Should Grayson Allen be suspended?’ and ‘Is Grayson Allen a dirty player?’ was a topic discussed by every personality paid to have an opinion.

RELATED: 50 Shades Of Grayson: Allen tries to avoid just One Shining Moment

Imagine that, for a second.

Imagine if your worst moment was broadcast live to millions of people, if the dumbest thing you ever did — the event that plays over and over in your head as insomnia takes hold — was replayed over and over on Sportscenter. Imagine if those same videos, accompanied by a story written by someone you’ve never heard of that details how annoying you are or how punchable your face is, can forever be found by simply typing your name into Google.

That’s where Allen was when the calendar turned from February to March.

“I knew that I made mistakes,” Allen said. “I messed up. I always had to be reminded of that and see that on TV. It was tough. It’s embarrassing to see my mistakes, stuff I regret a lot, being replayed for everyone to see.”

Four months earlier, Allen was the player everyone had pegged as the nation’s breakout star. He wasn’t even a year removed from igniting Duke’s 2015 National Championship run, going from being a seldom-used, confidence-sapped freshman to the spark in a come-from-behind win over Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament title game. He had all the makings of being the Next Great Duke Villain — he’s white, he’s handsome, he plays with an edge and he’s damned good, good enough to be named the 2016-17 NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year — but simply being the footnote to the story of Coach K finally embracing, and succeeding, with the one-and-done model was not enough to make him memorable.

Not in the same way that Laettner and Redick are memorable.

It works like this: there is no middle ground with Duke. They’re like the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys in that fans either love them or actively root for them to lose, regardless of opponent. Playing at Duke comes with the caveat that you will be disliked because of the jersey you wear for you entire college career. It works that way for everyone, whether they’re white or black, good or bad, tall or short, whatever.

But when you reach the level of a Laettner and a Redick, it changes the equation. That’s when the target gets put on your back, and Allen got there last season. He averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 boards — which, when combined with his 61.6 true shooting percentage, gave him a stat-line that had never been accomplished at the high-major level before.

Throw in a pair of tripping incidents in the span of two weeks, and Allen didn’t stand a chance. The hate he had to deal with last season was arguably more intense than anything any previous Duke player has dealt with. All Laettner had to do was to shut off the TV. Twitter didn’t exist and FaceBook didn’t allow anyone that wasn’t a college student until after Redick graduated. Allen can’t post on Instagram or Twitter without getting a barrage of responses telling him just how terrible of a person he is.

“There’s nothing you can do to fully get away from it,” he said.

Allen spoke with both Laettner and Redick about how to deal with the backlash, and their message was simple: Tune it out.

“Listen to the voice of our team and our coaches and not worry about stuff from the outside that’s being said,” Allen said. “[Coach K] has been through so many seasons and had so many players come through. He knows how to deal with it.”

But they also told him that there is no blueprint for this, that different people have to find different ways to cope. He’s not Laettner and he’s not Redick. Laettner loved playing the role of the heel. Redick learned to embrace it, to use the vile things spewed from student sections as motivation, but it was also a defense mechanism.

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 13: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks over Javion Ogunyemi #0 of the Siena Saints during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 13, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“Instead of getting hurt by it, if this is who they want me to be, then I’m going to have fun being that villain,” former Duke assistant Chris Collins explained. At the time, Collins and Redick were, and still remain, incredibly close. “I think it helped him deal with all the things that were coming his way.”

That’s not Grayson.

He doesn’t like the attention. He doesn’t want the spotlight. “He never has,” his mom, Sherry, said, which is what made his decision this spring so interesting.

Allen had a chance to declare for the NBA Draft. He likely would have been a first round pick — potentially top 20 — and, in a worst-case scenario, he would have been taken early in the second round and landed a guaranteed contract. Living out a life-long dream while cashing NBA paychecks or going to class five times a week while spending another full season getting abused every time he leaves Duke’s Durham campus? Play a role on an NBA team or see a new crop of freshmen come in and cut into your shots and minutes?

It seems like an obvious decision, and for Grayson, it was.

Just not the way many expected.

“Getting that Duke degree, having the opportunity to play as a lead guard, having the opportunity to play with an extremely talented group,” Allen said, listing the reasons why staying in school was the easy choice. “Step outside my comfort zone more, talk more, be a leader more. I definitely think about winning another national championship.”

“It was really hard for me to pass up.”

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


Sherry Allen is from the heart of SEC country. She understands how the life of a college athlete can be under a microscope, that a superstar for a powerhouse program living in the fishbowl of a college campus can have a mistake magnified out of proportion.

But she’s a football fan.

She didn’t realize that, in sending her son to Duke, she was potentially setting him up for this. It never crossed her mind, largely due to the fact that she never thought her son would put himself in this situation.

“The word ‘mad’? We weren’t ‘mad’ at Grayson, we were disappointed in Grayson,” Sherry said, realizing full-well that, for someone Grayson’s age, disappointing one’s parents is far worse than angering them. “We were disappointed because he wasn’t smart. And Grayson is smart. He let down for a brief moment, and he was not smart and he made a mistake. That was the disappointment for us.”

And that disappointment led to anguish as the newscycle spiraled.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hugs Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils after he fouled out against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their 84-79 overtime loss during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Mike Krzyzewski hugs Grayson Allen (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

“To tell you that I wasn’t hurt, I was,” she said. “I think the biggest hurt that I had personally was the name calling. To hear adults, who are parents and have children and are professionals, call names out to your child knowing that they are a parents their self, that was the biggest hurt to me.”

She tried not to let her son see it, because he was able to move on from this. He could put the trips and the hatred that it spawned behind him. He could block out the noise. He could focus on the message from within the team. She knew he could do all of that, and she was right. He played some of his best basketball down the stretch, leading Duke to the Sweet 16 despite playing without their starting power forward and with a six-man rotation.

But he wouldn’t have been able to do that if he knew that what he did had hurt the women he calls “such a big sweet-heart.”

“What Grayson would not be able to handle is if he knew that we were hurt, showing hurt and feeling hurt,” she said. “He would not have been able to move on from that.”

That’s what led to the phone calls.

As Grayson tells it, whenever his mom saw or heard or read something about him, she would call him to take her mind off of it. As Sherry tells it, she was simply calling to make sure that he was OK, that what she was seeing — whether it be a segment on First Take or a FaceBook post from a family friend — wasn’t bothering him. The truth doesn’t matter, because the end result of those conversations was that Sherry and her husband were able to get their message across to him: Move on. It happened, and unless you can go back and change the past, learn from it, grow from it, and let it go.

That’s the message that Allen was hearing from his coaches, too. It’s what he was hearing from his teammates. It’s what he’s spent the last eight months doing.

The question now is where he goes from here, because the tricky part is that playing with an edge is what makes Allen as good as he is. There’s a toughness to him, a competitiveness that cannot be taught. Ask anyone associated with the Duke program the last two years — players or coaches that were forced to scrimmage with the undermanned Blue Devils in practice last season — and they’ll all tell you playing against Grayson Allen is a miserable experience.

He’s never not going to play hard. He’s never not going to be super-competitive. He’s been that way since he first learned what sports were. But last year, he was competitive to a fault. Last year, he let the intensity of the moment get to him. He tripped Spalding after he didn’t get a call on a drive to the rim that left him on the deck. He tripped Rathan-Mayes after the Seminole point guard bumped him.

In those situations, he was the one that reacted.

But what happens if it’s not Allen’s fault?

The perfect encapsulation of just how bad it got for Allen last season came at the very end of their season. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks had just buried a long three to beat the shot clock with a few seconds left and the game no longer in doubt. After Allen dribbled out the clock, Brooks bumped into him and the announcer said that Allen “shoved” Brooks away.

That’s not the case. It was relatively harmless — as Allen tells it, Brooks apologized for running into him, complimented him for being a good player, Allen responded with a “you too, good luck”, and that was that — but since it was Duke and Grayson Allen, and since Coach K was caught on camera lecturing Brooks about the shot in the handshake line, it turned into a massive story.

The point isn’t to argue the merits of Coach K deriding opposing players. The point is that any little flashpoint involving Allen is going to become ‘a thing’ very quickly, and it’s fair to wonder if a fear of another incident — either consciously or subconsciously — will affect the way he plays this season.

There’s nothing he can say that will change this, either. This isn’t something that he’ll be able to fix during what is, in all likelihood, his final year on campus. He can’t un-light that fuse. That’s what happens when you’re caught on camera taking a pair of cheap-shots. Ask Draymond Green how the court of public opinion reacts.

But regardless of your opinion on Allen, it is important to remember here that he returned to school despite the fact that he’ll have to face the music every night. He returned to school because he wants to get his Duke degree, which he’s hoping to finish in three years. He passed up on guaranteed NBA money to chase a second NCAA title.

Education matters to him.

Winning matters to him.

The program he plays for matters to him.

He is everything we want our college stars to be.

And he knows that two moments of weakness ensured that he’ll never be remembered that way.

AP Photo
AP Photo