Grayson Allen is still the biggest thing in college basketball, like it or not


CHICAGO — This was supposed to be about Marvin Bagley, or Miles Bridges or maybe even Jaren Jackson Jr. The Champions Classic, once deemed The Convention because of all the NBA GMs it draws, annually serves as a national introduction for the latest one-and-done talent that populates Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State.

It is not supposed to be about a senior. But somehow, Grayson Allen always finds a way to make the story about himself.

When Michigan State looked like it would head into halftime only down a point, it was Allen who canned a 30-foot three at the buzzer. When the Spartans tied it with 12 minutes left, it was Allen again with another back-breaking three. When Jackson hit a triple with under two minutes left in an attempt to spark one last Sparty run, it was Allen who answered with a three of his own on the other end.

College basketball is always trying to build up other stars, but Allen is the one it can’t get rid of. He proved again on the biggest stage of the regular season that he is the sport’s lead actor. This time, he was the hero. Many times before, he’s been the villain.

Whatever Grayson Allen is doing, he’s always omnipresent.

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke vs Michigan State

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke vs Michigan State

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Players as infamous as Allen are not supposed to hang around this sport for this long. He came to Duke as the other McDonald’s All-American in the Blue Devils’ 2014 class that also included one-and-dones Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. He barely got off the bench that freshman year before a breakthrough in the Final Four and an even more incredible performance in Duke’s national title game victory.

As a sophomore, Allen was supposed to be a supporting actor next to another one-and-done in Brandon Ingram, but he became one of the best players in the country instead. His junior year was marred by tripping incidents, emotional break downs and a team suspension. Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard became Duke’s biggest stars and their supposed superteam was knocked out in the first weekend by seventh-seeded South Carolina.

Duke has a new mix of touted freshmen this year, four of them joining Allen in the starting lineup. Bagley is the next potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. Trevon Duval is the flashy freshman point guard. Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. are talented enough to demand the spotlight anywhere else.

This Duke team, this college basketball season, does not need to be defined by Grayson Allen once again. Yet here we are: 37 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field against the No. 2 team in the country, a new career-night in a career that’s been filled with so many memorable ones.

We can’t get away from Grayson Allen. Just ask Michigan State.

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke vs Michigan State

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Duke vs Michigan State

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

“I felt like I was coaching (J.J.) Redick,” Mike Krzyzewski said after the game.

Allen was only slightly more modest.

“I was kinda hot,” he said of his second half, where he drained five of his seven three-pointers.

Michigan State hung tough all night. Bridges, who we named the best player in college basketball last week, was phenomenal at times, hitting half of his 10 attempted three-pointers to finish with 19 points. Jackson Jr. impressed every NBA scout in attendance with his combination of three-point shooting and shot blocking.

Duke had every reason to fold when Bagley exited 10 minutes into the game after getting poked in the eye. He’s their most talented player, as Krzyzewski admitted after the game. If he can become their best player at some point this year, it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping Duke. Not with this version of Grayson Allen.

Allen was quick to point out the contributions of his point guard Duval. He should know. A year ago, Duke was left without a true point guard and pigeonholed Allen into that role. It was never a natural fit and he struggled to find his place among Tatum, Kennard and the rest of Duke’s stacked roster.

It’s not an issue anymore. Duval has 30 assists to four turnovers to start his career, and Allen is back to doing what he does best: attacking the defense with slashing drives and long distance bombs from behind the arc. This is his final act in the college game and it feels like he’s back to where he belongs.

“He’s been through the worst of times, he’s been through the best of times,” Trent said poetically after the game. “He’s the perfect leader for us.”

Allen has had a career full moments, both good and bad. If the Champions Classic was any indication, his senior year won’t be any different.

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