In the last 48 hours, Duke freshman Grayson Allen has gone from afterthought to folk hero. He scored 16 points in 21 minutes in the national championship game Monday, helping Duke beat Wisconsin, 68-63.
“It’s been crazy,” Allen said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Its been surreal. It doesn’t even feel real. It feels just like a dream. The moment went by so fast. Gosh, I can’t even believe it.”
Allen, a 6-4 freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., began the season as a backup to Rasheed Sulaimon. He typically only played a couple of minutes each game. In fact, there were some games where he never left the bench.
“It’s obviously very different,” Allen said. “You come from playing high school ball where you never come out of the game and then to college where there are games where you’re not getting in. I think I let it hit my confidence a little bit. On the sideline, I was more of a spectator than in the game.”
Mike Krzyzewski and assistant coach Jon Scheyer spoke to Allen throughout the season, kept him motivated and helped him stay mentally prepared. He erupted for 27 points in a 94-51 win over Wake Forest on March 4, but played just three minutes in the Elite Eight against Gonzaga.
In the Final Four, however, Allen had his first memorable play on the national stage. He followed a missed shot and flushed home a dunk against Michigan State. A lot of television viewers probably thought it was amazing.
Actually, it wasn’t.
Allen, who can jump out of a gym, almost didn’t get high enough on the dunk attempt.
“It grazed the rim,” Allen admitted. “I barely got that one in. I think I can definitely dunk it a lot better and a lot harder than that.”
Duke didn’t need dunks from Allen against Wisconsin, but it did need points. With the Blue Devils trailing by nine in the second half – and with arguably their two best players on the bench in foul trouble in Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow – Allen took over, going on a personal 8-0 run and leading his team back from the dead.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t get much sleep the night before.
“It took me a long time to fall asleep the night before the game because I was thinking about it so much,” Allen said. “Everything about the game was running through my head. Our game plan, thinking of how I can play when I get out there, what I can do to contribute. I think you definitely have that nervous energy. Thankfully, I was able to fall asleep – and woke up still thinking about the game.”
The rest is history.
Asked about Bo Ryan’s post-game comments, Allen said he didn’t think the game was overly physical.
“For us, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think we’ve played in a lot more physical games than last night. I’ve gotten switched on the guys in the post all year. We’ve been playing like that all year. So that really wasn’t a surprise for me or any of the guys on our team.”
Allen added that he and his teammates were not upset with Ryan’s other comments about the officiating.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” Allen said. “There’s always going to be stuff like that, especially with the game as big as that on the line.”
Allen’s performance did not go unnoticed. He went from little-known reserve to possible NBA draft pick literally overnight.
“It’s crazy how fast something like that can happen just in the matter of one or two days,” Allen said. “It was really a shock to me.”
Allen confirmed that he is “for sure” coming back, which should give Duke haters something – or better yet, someone – to hate for at least another season. After all, Allen is a talented, athletic white guy who plays hard and plays for Duke.
Non-Duke fans tend to hate players who fit that description.
Allen isn’t concerned.
“I think I might be prepared as much as I can be for it,” Allen said. “Thankfully, I have someone like Coach Scheyer here who kind of went through a similar thing when he was playing, so I got to talk to him a little bit about that. He just told me it means you’re doing something right out there, so it’s just going to come with it.”
Allen said it hasn’t yet hit him that he’s a national champion.
“I don’t know when it will, but this is something that I’m going to hold with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “This is so amazing.”