When Grayson Allen first came to Duke, he said he didn’t talk to anyone. The Duke guard, who was then a freshman, didn’t have anything against his teammates, he was just shy and reserved, he said.
However, then-senior guard Quinn Cook made it a point to get Allen out of his comfort zone. He tried to talk to him every day.
“At the time I was ninth or 10th guy on the team,” Allen said Wednesday at the ACC’s Media Day press conference. “So I think that type of leadership was big. Quinn led from the top of the group, with Jahlil (Okafor) all the way down to me, who probably wasn’t going to play at all during the season.”
Allen said Cook’s effort to lend a hand stuck with him. Allen as a sophomore became a key piece – arguably the most important piece – in Duke’s 2015 national championship win over Wisconsin.
Now a senior, Allen finds himself in that same position Cook was, trying to make his younger teammates feel comfortable. Duke lost nine players via transfer, graduation and the draft after last season. The Blue Devils essentially have a brand new team. Duke returns only one starter – Allen – and brought in a seven-person recruiting class.
“I try to get them to talk more,” Allen said of the freshmen. “That’s the huge thing. When I came here freshman year, I didn’t say anything, and I try to tell them don’t learn the hard way like I did. Get it down now, start talking.
“It really helps you get in the game more so you’re not caught off by the intensity or anything.”
Despite Duke’s turnover, Division I head coaches voted the Blue Devils as USA Today’s preseason No. 1-ranked team, in part because they had the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class. Allen said the team has the potential to do well this season, but he won’t know for sure until the freshmen step out onto the court for their first game. As a captain, that’s something he’ll have to help prepare them for.
“What I’m really hoping for this team is that we really start off strong and we just keep improving throughout the year,” he said. “There is really no ceiling that we hit or plateau, that we just keep going because of the young guys that we have. We should just continue to get better.”