Casual observers snickered at Grayson Allen’s Countdown to Craziness entrance Oct. 20 to the tune of Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch.” The white star player clapping and dancing with his teammates to a dated pop song in front of his elitist peers at Duke was “low-hanging fruit” for the Twitter trolls of the world, as SBNation put it.

Of course, most of these critics did not know the significance of the song at every Blue Devil home game and misunderstood the message beneath the dramatic entrance. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski—not usually one to put much thought into things as trivial as song choices—singled out the moment in his press conference immediately after Countdown and returned to it again at ACC media day almost a week later.

“I was proud of Grayson that night,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m proud of him a lot, but even for his song, he used the students’ song to be introduced. He’s really in a great place.”

In the middle of last season, Allen was not in such a great place. He was vilified on the national scene for the latest in a series of fateful mistakes when he stuck out his right leg to trip Elon’s Steven Santa Ana Dec. 21. 

In Durham, he was still a basketball player and a shy college student off the court. 

None of that has changed, but the core around him has, making him the lone senior and lone captain on a team with eight freshmen. Allen has played with 30 different college teammates and taken on a different role on all four of his teams.

“This kid has a wealth of experience and should have an amazing degree of empathy for a guy that doesn’t play,” Krzyzewski said. “How many DNPs did he have as a freshman? A guy, then, who was a hero in a national championship game. He’s like Rudy, but he’s not the walk-on.

“Then, he becomes an All-American, academic and regular. Then he has an unbelievably tough year injury-wise and otherwise last year—public flogging and all that. And now you’ve got a chance to use it all. What a tremendous opportunity that’s so completely different from any kid playing today.”

Krzyzewski is right that Allen has had one of the most unique careers in college basketball. The Jacksonville, Fla., native came out of nowhere to singlehandedly bring Duke back from a nine-point deficit in the 2015 national championship, then carried that success into a breakthrough sophomore season.

Allen surprised some by opting to come back to Duke for his junior year last season, hatching a plan to overload with coursework academically so that he could graduate early and jump to the NBA. 

“Last year, I think I was burning the candle a little too much on both ends,” Allen said at ACC media day, before grinning. “But I’m liking it now because now that I’m past it and through it, I get a very nice senior year.”

He was named a team captain prior to his junior season. But that all unraveled when his production dropped steeply, as he battled toe and ankle injuries all year. He was suspended for a game, sitting out a loss at Virginia Tech, and his captaincy was revoked. 

When Allen decided to return for his senior year, Krzyzewski instructed him not to touch a basketball for three months to get healthy and rediscover his love for the game. Allen went to Chicago for a brief internship with a media sales company called Intersport, staying with walk-on teammate Brennan Besser’s family, and arrived at school with a renewed mindset.

“I’m not the type of guy that has a lot of social self-confidence, so I put a little too much meaning into what people say,” Allen said. “Now, I’m to the point where I can’t do that at all. I’m at the point where I just don’t care.”

At the start of practice, the team chose Allen as its lone captain because of all that he has experienced in his career, both the highs and the lows. He is Duke’s first solo captain in 10 seasons, and Krzyzewski said he leads more naturally by example than with his words, calling him the best player on the team at ACC media day last week.

“He takes no plays off. It’s amazing to see how he works, and that’s something I’ve been learning from him—the work he puts in after practice, before practice,” freshman Marvin Bagley III said at Duke’s media day. “I try to do the same so I can make sure I’m ready when game time comes.”

Allen’s success hinges on the defining characteristics of his game—emotion and reckless abandon, both of which can be double-edged swords. He certainly cannot afford to use emotion to lash out when he is playing alongside four freshmen who will need his veteran presence on the court. 

But without his emotional screams when he stole the ball from Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson in the 2015 title game and drew a foul as he got knocked to the floor, the Blue Devils may not have rallied around him to win.

“Emotion is a very, very important thing in basketball. It’s actually something I think a lot more guys need to play with,” Allen said. “But for me, it’s very important that I don’t let it get to that point and that I kind of focus my emotion to our guys and our team.”

It’s a precarious balancing act that Krzyzewski thinks held Allen back last year when it was constantly on Allen’s mind, wondering what people would think if he committed a hard foul or so much as laid a toe on an opponent.

This year, Krzyzewski hopes those doubts are behind him.

“I don’t want him to play the game with rules of engagement. When you’re that publicly scrutinized for a crazy, stupid thing which you shouldn’t be that closely scrutinized for, that can have an impact,” Krzyzewski said. “I said, ‘Look, just play with all of your heart, and I’m good with what you do. I’ll be fine with the result.’”

Sameer Pandhare contributed reporting.