Grayson Allen – Punk or Prodigy?

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I fell in love with basketball years ago because it is high energy and requires synergy between all teammates to be successful. It takes a true team effort, and compared to other popular American sports such as baseball, football, or hockey, basketball is the most personal of them. The players’ emotions, expressions, and faces are exposed to the spectators, rather than shielded by a helmet or hat. This creates a visible connection between the fans and the players and is what makes basketball so special.

While this connection is a great feature of the sport, it also can unveil poor attitudes and immaturity among players or coaches. As someone with a great respect for the game of basketball, I become disturbed with athletes who do not honor the sport. The immature actions of some players at all levels, including, AAU, NCAA, and NBA, are very disappointing. Playing with a distinct competitive edge is admirable, but letting emotions take attention away from the sport is upsetting. At higher levels of competition, the behavior of different players becomes more magnified and critiqued. The storied Duke University mens basketball program, led by Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K.) since 1980, has been a staple in the world of basketball and attracts a great deal of attention. Sadly, the program has seen its share of controversy recently with star player Grayson Allen. The Duke junior has had numerous incidents of poor emotional decisions in games covered on national television.

Allen attended Providence School, a Christian college prep school, in Jacksonville, Florida. He showed tremendous talent and carried himself as a fierce competitor in high school, which led him to a scholarship to play basketball for Coach K. Allen is now a junior and former captain of their highly decorated NCAA division one team. According to ESPN, he averages 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assist per game this season. Without a doubt, Allen is a legitimate talent in the college basketball world.

However athletic and skilled he is, he has proven to be immature. Allen has purposefully tripped opponents on multiple occasions. He has also responded to his “tripping mistakes” poorly by throwing tantrums like the one that occurred in a game against Elon on December 21, 2016. These actions are inexcusable and quite disappointing, since this has occurred multiple times over the course of the last two seasons. Experienced and iconic Coach K. has also disappointed many in the manner in which he has handled his star player’s poor decisions. So far, the only visible, concrete punishments Allen has received are a removal of his captaincy and an indefinite suspension (which only lasted for one game).

Upper school history teacher and assistant basketball coach Brian Justice, and varsity basketball head coach Del Harris, each shared their thoughts on Allen, Coach K., and the consequences of such behavior.

Coach Harris has vast experience in the basketball world and explained how he is not supportive of Allen’s actions on the court. He made clear that how Allen has responded to the heat of a game has been completely childish. Harris says, “On the court you do what’s best for the team, and off the court you do what’s best for the individual.” He found it selfish and irresponsible of Allen to not learn from his previous mistakes, especially since it has continued over two seasons. He explained that an honorable athlete “doesn’t respond to emotion with emotion.” If they did respond with emotion, it could lead to immature and disrespectful actions, which is a shame for young fans to view. While Harris was critical of Allen’s incidents on the court, he explained, “This has nothing to do with him as a player,” and furthered mentioned how Allen is very talented and could play at the professional level.

Duke fans Tyler Tunstall (‘18) and Owen Scher (‘18) focused on similar aspects of Allen. They both highlighted his talent as a player when asked on their opinion of the Duke guard. Tunstall even spoke on the reason for his actions, saying, “I believe Grayson Allen is an insane talent, but it is sad to see possible off-the-court or personal issues take precedent over his talent.” Scher continued this thought as he expressed, “[Allen] has been put in a bad light, but Duke will go as he goes, but if he continues, his game will get bogged down as well as his team.”

Coach Justice broke his opinion of the tripping incidents down into two parts. First he spoke of the direct contributor to the problem. He began by saying, “I am hesitant to pass public judgement on youth athletes [because] he is still a kid, even though he plays for Duke.” I agree with Justice. This is an important aspect to consider, because however dishonorable and almost absurd his tripping is, he is still a young student-athlete. However, Justice continued to communicate that, “he is a highly competitive athlete and plays with an edge, which is admirable.” He continues to explain that he does not condone playing dirty or tripping, but “clearly [his edge] has lead him to cross the line.”

His second point was on Coach K.’s reactions and responses to his star player’s behavior. Justice explained that Coach K., “has done a disservice to the game of college basketball and to the Duke basketball program by not holding [Allen] accountable.” He was quite upset with the manner in which Coach K. disciplined Allen, saying, “he brushed it under the rug last season when it happened twice. He basically got shamed into disciplining him.” Justice continued to convey that this is an important part in Allen’s or any student-athlete’s development as a player, and without being held accountable or a proper role model, the player will sadly not be able to grow and learn.

Non-Duke-fans expressed a similar feeling. Price Withers (‘17), a college basketball fan and UVA supporter, suggested that Coach K. needs to handle the situation better. Withers even speculated that, “Grayson Allen has serious mental problems, and Coach K. needs to focus on getting him the proper help.” Collegiate’s boys varsity basketball team co-captain Berkeley Geho (‘17) shared some advice for Allen, “I think he needs a new haircut to put the tripping behind him and play for Duke and not himself.”

Geho’s advice nailed it. Grayson Allen needs to take time to better his individual condition on his own time, as Coach Harris stated, and as he is going through the process, he needs to have full support from Coach K. Once he can find his flow of the game and play basketball respectfully and honorably, I am confident that fans will see a true star take shape in Grayson Allen.

All photos courtesy of ESPN.

About the author

Grant is SCA co-chair and a senior at Collegiate.