Duke

Will Grayson Allen be a Duke captain again? Well, it’s complicated

Duke guard Grayson Allen coached a group of men participating in the K Academy fantasy basketball camp earlier this month.
Duke guard Grayson Allen coached a group of men participating in the K Academy fantasy basketball camp earlier this month. The Herald-Sun

Grayson Allen has already checked off two boxes from his basketball dream list.

As a freshman, he helped Duke capture the NCAA championship by scoring 16 points in the national title game win over Wisconsin on April 6, 2015.

Fifteen months and a few days later, Allen became a team captain when coach Mike Krzyzewski named Allen, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson as Duke’s official leaders heading into the 2016-17 season.

That duty disappeared last December, though, when Allen tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana during a game at the Greensboro Coliseum. Since it was the third time Allen had committed that transgression in 10 months, Krzyzewski suspended Allen for one game and stripped him of his captaincy.

Having put a professional career off to play one final season, Allen finds himself as the lone senior.

Under normal circumstances, Allen would be a sure bet to be named team captain for the next season. The abnormal behavior he displayed that cut his captaincy short last season, though, has the Blue Devils currently without a named captain.

Krzyzewski and his coaching staff will put the players -- featuring six incoming freshmen -- through their off-season program in July before determining a plan for what Krzyzewski calls “a program where they can show continuous progress.”

The team’s internal leadership structure, and where Allen fits, is a key part of that plan.

Given that Allen scored 21.6 points per game as a sophomore, it’s clear he needs to be playing at an All-American level again for Duke to be a championship team. While his per-game average dropped to 14.5 points last season, he’s the lone player returning who averaged more than 2.5 points last season.

As thrilled as Krzyzewski is to have Allen back -- he said he “loved” Allen when his decision to stay was announced in April -- Krzyzewski doesn’t want one player, no matter his importance, taking on the leadership mantle.

“Everybody has an opportunity to be a leader -- the manager, the guys who didn’t play a lot last year,” Krzyzewski said. “It shouldn’t be that your best player is the leader. That’s not the environment that we’ve been successful in.”

When Allen lost his captaincy last season, many critics outside the program scoffed as if it was a hollow punishment. But those who know the Duke program best disagree.

“The captaincy title matters a great deal at Duke and it matters to Coach K,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player and assistant coach under Krzyzewski. “It’s an important designation.”

But Bilas also said a veteran player like Allen can still impact the team whether or not he’s a captain.

“Grayson Allen, whether he’s captain or not, can be a tremendous influence on the success of that team,” Bilas said. “He’s proven himself to be a great college player. He had a lot of ups and downs last year both through his situation but also through some injuries and not being able to get great continuity because of all those things. So I think having a great summer and getting off to a great season next year, he’ll be as good as anybody.”

That Krzyzewski has yet to name his captains for the next Blue Devils basketball team isn’t unusual.

He didn’t name last year’s captains -- Allen; Jefferson, a redshirt senior forward, and Jones, a senior guard -- until July, when the entire team was together on campus.

In 2013 and 2014, he waited until September before the decision. Senior guard Tyler Thornton and sophomore transfer forward Rodney Hood captained the 2013-14 team.

Senior guard Quinn Cook and Jefferson, then a junior, captained the 2014-15 team that won the NCAA title.

But when Duke celebrated that championship at its basketball banquet on April 24, 2015, Krzyzewski named Jones, Jefferson and senior center Marshall Plumlee as the captains for the 2015-16 season.

Allen and junior center Antonio Vrankovic will be the most experienced players on Duke’s team next season. Sophomores and freshmen make up the remainder of the roster.

Yet Allen waits to learn whether or not the captaincy, something that brought him so much pride when he received it last July, will return.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

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