By now, most people know about Grayson Allen. They see his name in the headlines and his face on ESPN highlight reels—every move he makes is magnified. They see him diving all over the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, continuing to cement his place in a lineage of Duke players who draw national ire.
But most do not see him in the classroom.
In the one-and-done era—the Blue Devils have had five such players in the last three years—top prospects value the “college” aspect of college basketball less and less, with few, if any, vying to earn a degree. After a sophomore season in which he averaged 21.6 points per game and netted All-American honors, many thought Allen would follow the path of his contemporaries and parlay his collegiate success into NBA riches.
Instead, he is back in Durham for another season—and to finish his degree.
“Following the season, he put a lot of thought into an important decision that will impact the rest of his life,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said last April after Allen announced his decision. “In the end, he chose to remain at Duke, where he will pursue an undergraduate degree and develop even more as a man and basketball player.”
Allen has a history of success in the classroom—graduating cum laude in high school.
Last season, the Jacksonville, Fla., native continued to shine in both arenas, becoming just the sixth Blue Devil ever to earn Academic All-American status and on-court All-American recognition in the same year. He stayed in Durham for the summer and took two full-credit classes in each summer session, bringing him closer to earning a Duke degree.
“From a young age, my parents and grandparents have always stressed the importance of academics,” Allen said in a video he released detailing his decision to return. “Getting a Duke degree has always been a goal and a dream of mine. For me coming back next season, it just gets me closer to that goal.”
At the team’s media day in early October, Krzyzewski said Jason Williams was his last player to graduate early, making Allen the first Blue Devil in nearly 15 years to attempt a feat that is rare even for regular Duke students. Allen will not quite finish all his requirements by the end of the spring semester—he will still have one or two courses left to take. The junior guard has shouldered a heavy academic load throughout his career, always with the intention of completing his degree.
Duke students take an average of four classes per semester, and many athletes take only three during their competition season due to rigorous training and practice schedules. Allen said he has previously taken four classes each semester, but is overloading with five courses both semesters this year.
This fall, the psychology major is enrolled in corporate finance, oral history, Spanish, sports psychology and cultural anthropology. Allen said after the Blue Devils’ first exhibition game that after his basketball career, he might want to go into sports psychology.
After being constantly battered with questions about his tripping incidents or status as the new Duke villain in the past year, Allen brightens considerably when the focus of interviews switches to academics. Balancing an extra class in addition to the commitments involved with being a captain for the Blue Devils’ top-ranked squad is no easy task, and the 6-foot-5 guard said he is certainly going through an adjustment period.
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“It’s tough. I have a lot of days where I start with a lift at 8 in the morning and don’t finish until my night class at 9 o’clock at night,” Allen said at Duke’s media day in early October. “So it’s learning to manage your time. When you get a 30-minute window, you can’t lay down—you have to take advantage of it. I’m adjusting to it, I’ve learned a lot of time management since I’ve been here, but this year is going to be the most important for that.”
It certainly helps that both of Allen’s co-captains, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson, share his focus on academics. A senior, Jones will complete his undergraduate degree in May, and Jefferson—a four-time Academic All-ACC honoree as an undergraduate—is now working toward a master’s degree in the Divinity School. The three veterans share an off-campus apartment together, giving Allen a home environment that lends itself to studying much better than a dorm filled with video games and late-night chats.
Although the real stress of the regular season—or finals, for that matter—has not fully hit yet, it seems Allen is doing just fine keeping himself on track, both on the court and in the classroom.
“G seems like he’s been handling it really well,” Jones said. “Obviously, it’s two huge commitments, one to graduate next year with me and then having basketball here at Duke, but G’s been around the block a couple times now, so he knows how to handle that.”
Hank Tucker contributed reporting.