Former Providence School star Grayson Allen became an overnight sensation when he came off the bench Monday night and scored 16 points to ignite Duke to a 68-63 win over Wisconsin for the national championship, including eight consecutive points in a pivotal second-half stretch.
Jacksonville, Times-Union sports columnist Gene Frenette talked with Allen on Wednesday about how this breakout moment might impact his career, the overnight fame it brought him and the euphoria of Duke’s fifth title celebration under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
How long did you celebrate after the game at Duke’s team hotel, and how crazy was the atmosphere there with the fans?
“I guess the celebration lasted all night. I couldn’t fall asleep with all the adrenaline and excitement from the game. The hotel was crazy. There was a ton of people waiting for us. It was all a big mob scene. We walked right through it all, high-fiving and taking selfies along the way.”
Has it even hit you yet that a team with eight scholarship players won a national title, and when do you expect to come down from that high?
“Man, I haven’t really given it much thought. One of our mottos was, ‘Eight is Enough.’ But to actually get it done, it’s amazing when you think about it. I definitely haven’t come down from it yet. We’re still living in that moment. It doesn’t feel real. The whole moment went by so fast, it’s almost like a dream.”
Who was the first person you can remember hugging after the game ended?
“I have no idea. I think I just jumped in a big pile with my teammates, then I went and hugged Coach Scheyer [Jon, Duke assistant coach]. It’s actually funny to watch. You look at guys getting so excited after the buzzer goes off. They have no idea what to do. You’re running around and looking for somebody to hug.”
You have said with the limited playing time you’ve been given, it’s important to stay mentally ready to play all the time. But what compelled you in such a high-stakes game to take the initiative to score eight straight points for Duke in a span of 1 minute, 10 seconds?
“I felt like that in that moment, after Wisconsin had gone up nine, I needed to bring life and energy. I didn’t think about taking over the scoring part of the game. We have a lot of guys that can score. I’m thinking I need to get us fired up so we could score. I got the openings that Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] has been telling me to take all year. It was just part of my aggressiveness and energy to attack the basket.”
How much did making the first 3-point shot you attempted during that offensive flurry spur you on?
“I think that was big. Part of my confidence in taking that shot is Coach K is going to, more often than not, take you out of the game for passing up those shots. That’s where my confidence came from. To knock that down got me into the game and into a comfort zone.”
How did it make you feel when Coach K, after being asked about you by CBS announcer Jim Nantz on the championship podium, said that “Grayson put us on his back?”
“That was just amazing. It really took me by surprise when he said that. In the game and the moment, I never thought about needing to put the team on my back. It was just coming off the bench to bring energy. For him to say that, I thought, ‘Wow!’ ”
Your performance against Wisconsin has inspired a lot of chatter on social media and some good-natured barbs from Duke haters. Have you seen the Grayson Allen memes that compare your looks to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones” and the animated Nickelodeon/Disney character “Doug?” Do you find it funny and understand opposing fans are probably going to increase their hatred for you?
“I saw it all. I look like just about everything. Yeah, I thought it was funny. I haven’t seen “Game of Thrones,” but I hear not many people like Joffrey’s character in the show, so I guess that’s kind of fitting. I just take it as doing something right. I talked to coach Scheyer a little bit about it today. He told me to embrace it. I know it’s coming. Duke has a lot of haters, but I know it means you’re doing something right if they’re hating you.”
Two of your freshmen classmates, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, are considered locks to be among the top NBA draft picks, and another, Tyus Jones, raised his stock by being named the Final Four most outstanding player. Will you broach the subject of their future with them and try to convince them to return to school next year?
“Of course, those guys are like my brothers, so I would absolutely love for them to come back. That’s a huge decision for them and their families. At the end of the day, they have to do what’s best for them. They have enough people in their ear telling them what to do. It’s their decision. If they ask me, I’ll be there for any advice. But I think they have enough advisers.”
You have been known as a quiet, reserved guy off the court. Would you be ready to take on a vocal leadership role next year if you’re the only player left from the nation’s top-ranked 2015 recruiting class?
“I definitely think I’ll be ready if that’s something needed. Quinn [Cook, senior guard] has been a great leader for us, and he’s taught me a lot about what it means to build a relationship with your teammates and hold them accountable. Being in this Duke program, Coach K builds great leaders. With that helping me, I think I’ll definitely be able to be a leader.”
Do you see yourself being one of those rare productive players who stays at Duke for four years or do you not want to publicly box yourself in on that hypothetical question?
“My goal isn’t to leave early. I really love Duke. My plan going in is to stay four years. I’m not locking into that, but that’s the plan that comes first for me. It’d have to take something really big to do otherwise.”
You have a reputation for shooting hundreds of extra shots after practice. It’s been 48 hours since you won a national title, so how quickly will you go back to the gym and do that?
“I’m going to take a little bit of a break. Maybe in one week or two, when I get lifting again, I’ll start up in the gym and get into that routine again.”