DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Grayson Allen wants to make the most of his final run through the NCAA Tournament.
It hasn’t exactly been a smooth four years for the Duke senior who won a national title in 2015 before becoming one of the sport’s most polarizing figures amid a series of tripping incidents.
But he’s evolved into the elder statesman on a team full of freshmen, and he has No. 2 seed Duke (28-7) preparing for a rematch with 11th-seeded Syracuse (23-13) on Friday night in Omaha, Nebraska, in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
“There’s obviously no way I’m going to hold any words back or anything like that,” Allen said Tuesday. “And I think it really helps with this team.
“It speaks to the maturity level of our team, and everyone’s secure in their role on the team,” he added. “Me, by being that secure leader and telling these guys and them either following or becoming a leader in their own right. … Everyone is speaking up right now and it helps with our togetherness.”
Part of his willingness to speak up, of course, is because this is his last shot at a national championship. But it’s also a reflection of how he has grown more comfortable in leading through not just action but by words.
“He’s just grown into being a leader,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s not a vocal guy, so just learning about that and still playing his game, it’s an evolution. He’s a much better player now than he’s ever been because he’s learned all these things.”
He can certainly draw upon plenty of the experiences — good and bad — of his previous three years.
His hustle plays against Wisconsin in the 2015 national championship game sparked Duke to its most recent NCAA title. During the following two seasons, though, his name became synonymous with three separate tripping incidents that earned him a flagrant foul, a reprimand from the Atlantic Coast Conference and a one-game suspension.
Aside from his hip-check foul on North Carolina’s Garrison Brooks two weeks ago in the ACC Tournament — an incident that later was laughed off by the Tar Heels — Allen’s senior season has been generally devoid of any controversy.
Instead, the focus has been on his production on the court and his leadership off it. Allen is the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.6 points per game.
And though leadership skills are tougher to quantify, Krzyzewski offered an anecdote: He said he and Allen were among the last people out of the locker room following the second-round victory over Rhode Island, and the Hall of Fame coach told him that he noticed the rest of the Blue Devils listening to him.
“And he smiled. ‘Your team is really listening to you,'” Krzyzewski told Allen. “Keep saying what you think you should say. And you could see he was proud of it. … He’s telling people what to do, and it was really neat to see where he’s at right now.”
Allen said his teammates are developing leadership habits of their own, and the cumulative effect has been a group sense of ownership of the team. Duke has won nine of 11 games and beat Iona and Rhode Island by 20 points apiece.
“I think it’s clear to anybody who’s seen us play … that we’ve really come together, and so they’re not only listening to me, they’re listening to each other,” Allen said. “There’s a lot of back and forth going on between guys, and we’re really embracing the group, team mentality and it’s a really cool thing.”
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