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After second trip, Duke needs Grayson Allen to keep his cool

After his second incident of tripping another player on the court, Grayson Allen needs to keep his competitive fire in check lest Duke wind up having to play without him.

On Friday afternoon, the ACC reprimanded Grayson Allen for tripping Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes near the end of a game one night earlier. If you were looking for reasons to loathe Duke’s sophomore guard, if you sought to induct him into the pantheon of hated Blue Devils stars, there you have it: Your ire, ratified by the league office. It will be willfully wasted energy, though. This is a player who went through a half-dozen jersey numbers during one summer of AAU basketball, because he was such a regular target of dirty tricks. It’s doubtful that fresh vitriol from Twitter feeds and student sections will be the end of him.

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But this episode is relevant, because it may force Grayson Allen to make an adjustment he never figured he’d have to make. Whatever slings and elbows come his way for the remainder of his college career, Allen would do well to resist the eye-for-an-eye tenacity that essentially makes him who he is. Whatever treatment he receives from the opposition, he may not be able to follow his instincts to pursue a reckoning. Like it or not, he’s being watched now. After a flagrant foul for tripping a Louisville player and some tongue-clucking from the ACC for tripping a kid from Florida State, he can’t afford another breach of conduct that inspires more than a wrist-slap. He can’t afford the risk of suspensions that would harm his team in truly meaningful ways. 

A complete rewiring, this isn’t. It’s more like a bypass. But that might be complicated enough. 

It should be noted that has Allen never pretended to be anything but feisty, while conceding he’s occasionally been too feisty at that. His parents would arrive to pick him up at basketball camps and find that he was sitting to the side for an involuntary cooling-off period. Losses during phys ed class often prompted Allen to throw the ball across the gym in a fit of anger. “Picture the epitome of an immature middle schooler, just not liking losing,” Allen said with a smile last October, sitting in a Cameron Indoor Stadium meeting room. “It wasn’t good.” Jim Martin, his junior high P.E. teacher, became his high school coach at the Providence School in Jacksonville, Fla. During summer league games, Martin would pull Allen out for 30 seconds or a minute at a time, just to get his live-wire star to relax. “We had many, many talks with him telling me to chill out,” Allen said. “Many, many.” 

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The AAU circuit, and the message from his coach, Harry Douglas Sr., was no different, especially when Allen first broke into it before his junior season. “I would honestly have to walk away and take a couple deep breaths,” Allen said. “Coach Douglas would always tell me, you don’t have to go back at them with a cheap shot, or do to them what they did to you. Just put the ball in the net.”

It’s not just counsel worth revisiting now—it probably should be the mission plan for Allen as long as he’s wearing a Duke uniform. 

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Maybe this isn’t as much a wakeup call as a handy reference point. Maybe from here—after two plays dissected like they were filmed by Abraham Zapruder himself, after two spins through the scornful indignation/righteous defense cycle that follows any controversial act by an athlete—Allen can forge a new approach. Whatever happens to him, take that breath. Walk away. Channel the emotion and merge it with the skill that’s made him the nation’s 17th leading-scorer (20.9 points per game) and put the ball in the net. 

Just keep his legs under him, as it were.

Duke needs Allen’s emotion. But that emotion is worthless if Allen is relegated to dispensing it from the bench in street clothes. Boiling over into another regrettable act at this point would be irresponsible and, frankly, unfair to a team that can’t achieve much without him. 

And the two trips were indeed regrettable. Reactive and retaliatory as opposed to premeditated and malevolent … but regrettable nonetheless. Somehow, though, the world continued to spin on its axis after they happened. And it will continue to spin even after the ACC merely sent a warning to Allen instead of delivering a pound or two of flesh to bloodthirsty fans craving more.

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Essentially, the league informed Duke’s star guard he should know better. Here’s betting he’s smart enough to get the message. 

Grayson Allen tripped a couple guys probably because he felt they deserved it, for whatever happened out of plain sight earlier in those games. That’s how he’s played basketball pretty much since the time he first took a ball into his hands. He might not be able to play that way anymore, not exactly, and that will be an adjustment worth watching. When Allen takes a shot from an opponent now, it’s best to heed the advice he’s received after all the shots across all the years:

Put the ball in the bucket, and let teams trip over themselves trying to stop him.