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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NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.