Grayson Allen’s third tripping incident in 10 months occurred Wednesday against Elon (Getty Images)
It doesn’t matter how remorseful Grayson Allen sounded during his carefully orchestrated media tour this fall or during his tearful postgame apology Wednesday night.
The Duke star’s actions have to corroborate his words, or it becomes impossible to defend him anymore.
Allen made the one mistake guaranteed to do the most damage to his already tarnished reputation late in the first half of Duke’s 72-61 victory over Elon. As Elon’s Steven Santa Ana spun past him on the baseline, Allen stuck his right leg out and swept his opponent’s left leg out from under him, an ill-conceived decision very reminiscent of the two tripping incidents last February that landed the All-American guard in the national media’s crosshairs.
In a Feb. 8 matchup with Louisville, Allen stuck both his legs out and appeared to intentionally trip Cardinals forward Ray Spalding as he ran up floor, resulting in a flagrant foul. Seventeen days later against Florida State, Allen lifted his left leg and tripped Xavier Rathan-Mayes as the Seminoles guard began to run up court, resulting in a public reprimand.
The first incident was surprising. The second was damning. The third is incomprehensible.
Allen knew better than anyone else the pain and embarrassment of having your worst moments splashed across TV channels from coast to coast, of becoming a target of every opposing crowd, of enduring a national debate over your moral scruples. To repair his image, he also was well aware his behavior had to be beyond reproach this season, especially since as a clean-cut white guy in a Duke uniform, it was as if he was tailor-made to follow in the footsteps of Christian Laettner or J.J. Redick and become the Blue Devils’ next villain.
“I know there’s never completely a blank slate,” Allen told ESPN.com in October. “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.”
Even before Wednesday, Allen hadn’t entirely evaded negative headlines. His penchant for flailing or flopping at the first hint of contact has drawn plenty of criticism so far this season, some fair but a lot of it distorted by his previous actions.
There’s no defending Allen on Wednesday though, not after another egregious trip that even he seemed to immediately realize was likely to spark another national firestorm. When Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pulled Allen from the game, the junior guard screamed and pounded on the seat next to him on the bench in frustration over a mistake he vowed never to make again.
During an emotional postgame conversation with reporters in Durham, Allen apologized for what he called another mistake.
“I made a really bad play." Allen said before also apologizing to Santa Ana, the officials and his team for being "selfish"— Stephen Wiseman (@stevewisemanNC) December 22, 2016
Allen: I don’t plan on doing it again. I made another mistake and I have to try to be better again just like I tried to be better last year— Stephen Wiseman (@stevewisemanNC) December 22, 2016
Grayson said there is no excuse for what he did.— Stephen Wiseman (@stevewisemanNC) December 22, 2016
Krzyzewski sat Allen the last four minutes of the first half and the first three-plus minutes of the second half, a slap on the wrist that shouldn’t be the only penalty the Duke guard faces given his history of tripping. The Duke coach called Allen’s actions “unacceptable” after the game, but stopped well short of promising to punish the standout guard further.
Mike Krzyzewski on Grayson Allen punishment. Just transcribed this off ESPNEWS. pic.twitter.com/6GGL5r7A71— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) December 22, 2016
What this means is the ACC probably needs to step in and suspend Allen at least one game. The league has to send the message to Allen that enough is enough even if a suspension won’t be the punishment that sticks.
What will sting more is knowing that no amount of apologies can change the fact that his name is synonymous with tripping. Allen’s habit of sweeping the legs out from under opponents will be as much a part of his Duke legacy as every seismic dunk he has thrown down or the title-clinching rally he once sparked.