Duke University has always been a national powerhouse in men’s college basketball. The Blue Devils are tied for third in most national championships with five wins, command an NCAA-best .755 NCAA tournament winning percentage and have suited up 71 players who went on to the NBA. Under the direction of Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time leader in wins in Division I men’s basketball history, winning is an expectation, not an aspiration.
Entering this season, the Blue Devils were the first-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll. Not only were they projected to win another national championship, but the Blue Devils also had numerous preseason All-Americans and top-tier talent on the floor. Junior guard Grayson Allen was the highlight of this year’s group and is now considered one of the best players in the country.
A second-team All-American and first-team all-conference last year, Allen has become a center of controversy. On Feb. 8, 2016, Allen aggressively tripped Louisville’s Raymond Spalding and received a flagrant foul, but this was just the first of Allen’s harmful plays. Just a few weeks later, he intentionally tripped Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes when Duke was up by 15 points with only five seconds left. Although he wasn’t called for a foul, the replay showed Allen deliberately lifting his right foot to trip the other player.
Upon the 2016 season’s end, Allen vowed to put the tripping episodes behind him in an interview with ESPN.com.
“I know there’s never completely a clean slate,” he said. “That’s going to be replayed and not forgotten about. But for me, every opportunity I get to step on the court is an opportunity to play the game again and play the game the right way.”
But this proved to be a false promise when Allen’s aggressive and harmful play was put on display once again in late December. In Duke’s 72–61 victory over the Elon University Phoenix, he tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana.
It was at that point where Krzyzewski had seen enough. Immediately after the game, he stripped Allen of his captaincy and suspended him indefinitely. But after missing just one game, Allen returned to the court for a Jan. 4 game against Georgia Tech.
But only a one-game suspension? Duke University represents the cream of the crop in college basketball. Sitting Allen out for one game is not the discipline that a harmful player at a premier program deserves. If it were only once or twice, I would understand because basketball is a game of constant contact, but three times?
If I were Krzyzewski, I would have benched Allen for at least two weeks. Not only do the flagrant and technical fouls hurt the team, but they also completely swing momentum to the opposing team. This season, Allen has had four technical fouls — four too many. Most importantly, he has become a continuous distraction to his team for over a year now.
One would think that by this point he would have learned his lesson, but no. In Duke’s 72–64 win over the University of Pittsburgh, Allen extended his right foot to trip Jamel Artis. Though he was not issued a technical or flagrant foul, all eyes returned to Allen’s poor sportsmanship.
For the Blue Devils to win another national championship, they will not only have to play their best basketball, but also block out the unnecessary media attention Allen has provoked. Both tasks are not easy to complete in the high-pressure stage the NCAA Tournament presents every year.
While Duke has some of the country’s best talent, Krzyzewski needs to take a deeper look at the program to understand the players he wants to recruit. Allen’s actions may have long-lasting negative impacts on the program. Aspiring college basketball players may not want to play at a school that promotes harmful and overly aggressive play with a lack of discipline for its players.
With the NCAA Tournament starting next week, Duke has a lot of thinking to do about what kind of players it wants to wear “Blue Devils” across their chest moving forward.