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A Different Shade Of Grayson

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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.

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Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.