Would this Grayson Allen tripping brouhaha be quite such a big deal were, instead of taking place at Duke, it were happening at, say, Montana State, College of the Pacific, or Florida Atlantic?
I think we all know the answer to that question.
No, it’s become quite a big deal because it has happened at Duke, and because the head coach at Duke is someone who, it can be argued, is as great a basketball coach — note that I did not restrict the field to college — as we’ve ever known. Names make news, we’ve often been told, and in this case there is no bigger name than Mike Krzyzewski in the world of college basketball.
Here is a brief summary of the story for those of you not quite up on all the news in college basketball:
Grayson Allen is a junior basketball player at Duke. Make that a very good junior basketball player at Duke. But he has a disturbing history of blatantly tripping opposing players. He did it twice late last season, and he did it a third time two weeks ago in a game against Elon. We do not know what the internal ramifications of those first two tripping incidents were. What we do know is that whatever “punishment” he received did not involve missing any games.
When he perpetrated this ludicrous act a third time, Coach K took new action. He suspended young Mr. Grayson “indefinitely.” Naturally, we who care about this stuff watched with great interest to see just how long the “indefinite” suspension would be. The answer: one game. I should amend that: one losing game against Virginia Tech. Allen was back in action last Wednesday as Duke bashed Georgia Tech.
Was one game a sufficient reaction to what we can all agree is, at the very least, a highly unsportsmanlike act on the part of Allen? There is a widespread difference of opinion, and much of it has to do with Duke itself. There is no more polarizing collegiate entity in contemporary America than Duke basketball. There are few neutrals. They are college basketball’s answer to the Yankees (and, increasingly, the Red Sox). You either love the Dookies or you hate ’em.
Full disclosure: I first became a fan of Coach K and the Duke basketball program with his 1985-86 team, a lovable group featuring the great backcourt of Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker and whose undersized center was 6-foot-7-inch Jay Bilas, now of ESPN fame. They went all the way to the NCAA final, where they lost to Pervis Ellison and Louisville. But I loved the way they played, and I became more enamored of Duke over the years. I had a few encounters with Coach K and found there was much to like.
But I could not condone the actions of Grayson Allen. To me, the adjudication was very simple. The first offense, unusual as it was, should have drawn a very sharp reprimand. He had to be told that such behavior was unacceptable and not the way we play the game around here. The second incident called for an immediate one-game suspension. And the third was beyond unacceptable. I would have suspended him for a minimum of five games and a maximum of 10. You just cannot go around tripping people on a basketball court. I think my approach is eminently reasonable.
Taking to Twitter, I said to Coach K that the “suspension” had better extend to the Atlantic Coast Conference season and that “we’re watching you.” I think that was warranted. People all over America wanted to see if Coach K would properly punish a two-time recidivist whose actions were bringing shame on his program and school. How could he not see that? There was a lot more at stake than a win or two, and Duke under Mike Krzyzewski has always held itself up as a paragon of NCAA virtue. Anything less than a significant multi-game suspension would stamp Coach K as a hypocrite, nothing more, nothing less.
And so what did we get? He gave Allen one game and then wrapped the explanation around his own impending hospitalization and surgery for a herniated disk, as if there should be any connection between the deviant behavior of a star player and his own precarious health.
I expressed my disapproval via Twitter, saying that I thought Coach K was better than that, and the responses rolled in.
Among the negatives:
“GAllen learned his unsportsmanlike acts are OK by Duke, Coach K and ACC. Talent was chosen over character again.”
“1st Coach K is not better than that and 2d Duke lost the 1st game of his suspension no chance he was sitting again.”
“shame it can’t get solved on the court with some kid decking Allen. That would clean it up.”
“He’s having surgery to put a backbone in.”
Then there were the pure anti-Dookies:
“Who the [naughty word] roots for Duke unless you went there?”
“Rooting for Duke is like rooting for the House in Blackjack.”
And the Duke apologists:
“Coach K wants to win, and the media loves Duke, especially when they win. You should be happy he is playing.”
“I am confident Coach K sits on Rushmore of coaches. #never forget. He makes the rules.”
A sample of a reasoned neutral:
“The kid didn’t murder or rape anyone, step back, lighten up some. I don’t like Duke, but come on, too critical!”
Coach K told us there were things going on behind the scenes he wouldn’t talk about. Such as what? The behavior is so out of the ordinary it suggests possible psychiatric help is in order, and that would be fine. If the kid needs help learning how to control himself, there is nothing disgraceful about that. Get him the professional help he needs.
Mike Krzyzewski was a good college basketball player long before he became a nonpareil coach. He knows how the game should be played. He is also the most visible and acclaimed college coach of them all. Coaches all over America look to him for guidance, and in this case he has sent out an entirely wrong message. He should not be downplaying the scurrilous action of his player. A one-game suspension is simply inadequate.
Enough people already despise Duke. Coach K has given them even more reason to do so.Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBobRyan.