By DERON SNYDER
Hate is a strong word, used only figuratively in this space because the emotion means something else in a sports sense. It’s not true, genuine animosity toward certain athletes or teams; it’s a fun, almost-healthy feeling that makes watching sports more engaging.
With that said: I hate Grayson Allen and Duke.
I never embraced that before, but it feels good to say it out loud.
Allen follows a long line of Duke basketball players who earned distinction among the nation’s most-loathed hoopsters. There was Christian Laettner – the granddaddy of them all – plus J.J. Redick, Greg Paulus, Steve Wojciechowski, Gerald Henderson, Shane Battier and the list goes on.
It’s a wonder Tyler Hansbrough didn’t suit up for the Blue Devils.
My enmity toward the program is based on its impression as a smug and conceited group that suffers from an acute superiority complex. They probably contracted the virus from coach Mike Krzyzewski, though it’s understandable how five national titles might have that effect on a person.
Anyway, as I said, it’s all faux revulsion, like the good-natured booing that sane folks unleash (not the vile, fiery invective of booze-fueled lunatics).
Looks like both camps will have plenty of ammunition this season.
No. 1 Duke beat No. 2 Michigan State Tuesday in the Champions Classic, a fabulous annual event that also includes Kentucky and Kansas. Allen scored a career-high 37 points against the Spartans, sinking 7-of-11 three-pointers. He played all 40 minutes and was whistled for just one foul. (To be fair, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges received star treatment, too, collecting one foul in 37 minutes).
“Allen is a great shooter, not a good shooter,” Coach K told reporters after the game.
The 6-foot-5 guard has been a great villain, not a good villain, largely due to his freakish athleticism but also his annoying penchant for tripping opponents and throwing temper tantrums. We thought we had seen the last of him at Duke, but Allen unexpectedly returned for his senior year. He’s the old-timer among Coach K’s four freshman starters, including Marvin Bagley III, potentially the No. 1 NBA draft pick.
Allen could join Bagley in the first round with more performances like Tuesday.
The controversial star is making a conscious effort to shift attention from his antics to his ability. After a subpar junior season that saw him stripped of his captaincy, Allen’s stock – he averaged 21.6 points as a sophomore – dropped along with his reputation. Consequently, he was an afterthought in Player-of-the-Year conversations entering this season.
Not anymore. He has leapt to the fore, raising his season scoring average to 25.7 after the 37-point barrage. He also has shown he’s not the same kamikaze who willing subjected his body to pain and punishment. There’s not a lot of contact when you stay outside and drain threes.
“He’s matured as far as knowing who he is as a player,” Krzyzewski said. “He doesn’t have to be this guy who gets knocked to the floor all the time.”
I never wish injury on anyone. But Grayson absorbing hard fouls and hitting the deck never really bothered me. He always seemed to deserve it.
Now he almost makes me feel guilty because he’s trying to, you know, develop into a better person.
We forget sometimes that these are youngsters, closer to puberty than adulthood. Remembering some of our own regrettable decisions and youthful indiscretions might be helpful when considering college athletes’ actions. I would cringe if judged forever on choices I made as an underclassman.
“Certainly I’ve harbored a lot of embarrassment and shame for situations on the basketball court that were of my own doing the past couple of years – the ones you saw on TV or read about on social media,” Allen wrote Tuesday on The Players’ Tribune. “They could have easily snowballed more than they did and ruined the rest of my basketball career.
“I stayed at Duke because, like most college students, I still have some growing up to do.”
I’m glad he’s back. His presence makes rooting against Duke easier. Without him, our loathing would be aimed at the touted newcomers, whose only offense was choosing to play for the Blue Devils. Though that’s usually enough, it engenders a tamer, more generic resentment.
College basketball is a better place when Duke has a great team and a real antihero leads them. Allen, with his ability to exhilarate and irritate, brings that for Coach K.
It makes the hate worthwhile.