Duke has suspended junior guard Grayson Allen indefinitely for tripping yet another opponent, but that doesn’t come close to approximating the real punishment here. After Allen deliberately stuck his leg out at Elon sophomore guard Steven Santa Ana in Greensboro on Wednesday—his third such incident since last February—it’s now too late for a very good player to shed the stigma that he’s dirty, that he’s inexplicably prone to bratty and theatric lapses. Allen's legacy at his dream school will now include a permanent record carrying an indelible stain.
This is the personal hell Grayson Allen has built. This is the space he’ll occupy for years. And this is likely why he couldn’t even make it through postgame interviews after the latest incident without repeatedly stuffing his face in a towel and sobbing until school officials cut off the spectacle.
Allen knows what he’s done to himself. He knows who he has let down. The suspension will end but the embarrassment will live on for years. And imagine how that feels.
It’s a sad and mystifying situation.. The trips are indefensible, a fact no one disputes. “Unacceptable and inexcusable” were the words Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski chose Thursday in announcing the discipline for “actions that do not meet the standard of Duke basketball.” Those actions are also bizarrely unnecessary. Allen is an All-America talent who doesn’t need to resort to playground mischief at any point in any game, let alone one against a Colonial Athletic Association team. Why he’s succumbed to the impulse on three different occasions—once each against Louisville and Florida State last February, before last night's edition—is beyond comprehension. Krzyzewski arguably could’ve issued this punishment after the second offense and, maybe, scared Allen straight enough to spare him another strike. But such was this coach’s trust for this player that Krzyzewski no doubt was certain it wouldn’t happen again. That’s how far outside the fringes Allen has strayed.
Whatever you believe about Mike Krzyzewski, there is no way in this universe or any other he wants to see one of his players put through this. He surely figured he had Allen’s mind-boggling tic under control. Clearly he didn’t. Welcome to coaching college kids.
So here we are. And while there’s no shifting the blame for it, it’s reasonable both to acknowledge Allen’s actions as distasteful and to maintain a level of sanity about them. Three times, Grayson Allen tripped a guy. Yes, it’s absurd. It’s also far, far down the list of grievous transgressions committed by college athletes. The piling on is predictable—it is Duke, after all—and the zingers and student-section signs are inevitable. Absolutely fair enough. But to get angry about this? To get #madonline to the point of caustic name-calling? That ire might be better directed toward other instances of less-than-exemplary player behavior, as opposed to the guy who again channeled Johnny Lawrence at the All-Valley Karate Tournament.
In any case, Grayson Allen doesn’t need help feeling miserable. He’s branded himself, now and for years to come. Maybe that doesn’t matter so long as he can put the ball through the rim regularly and become a millionaire playing this sport. NBA paychecks can be a handy response to attacks on your character, especially when the attacks are borne of something as indefensible but relatively benign as this.
But unless he’s the greatest working con artist in the sport, a player doesn’t openly weep in a locker room, apparently overwhelmed by the shame, if that’s all that matters. Even before the suspension came Thursday, Allen seemingly knew too well his legacy was damaged, permanently, and it was no one’s fault but his. He can be remembered at Duke for more than this—he helped the Blue Devils win a national championship two seasons ago and could help them win another in April—but neither will any of this be forgotten. It will follow him the rest of this year, whenever he returns to the floor. It will follow him after he leaves Durham. It will follow him to the next level, where sneering veterans are all but certain to test him or ride him over the melodrama in his past.
He disappointed just about everyone he can list, for no good reason at all. He made everything that much harder on himself from here. He made certain he’ll carry a stigma that will color everything else he accomplishes.
Grayson Allen is indefinitely suspended from playing basketball for Duke, and that isn’t even the worst punishment in this.