With the end of 2017 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.
Coming in at No. 4 on the list: Grayson Allen staying at Duke
Grayson Allen could have left Duke for the NBA after helping it win the national championship. He could have left after an unreal sophomore season, and even after an injury and tripping-riddled junior year.
But he never did.
When fellow Blue Devil stars like Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard were declaring for the NBA Draft, he announced in April that he was going to return for his senior season—much to the thrill of Duke fans. He had already won a national title, but by staying, he gave himself a chance for another championship and a shot at having his No. 3 hanging in the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I stayed at Duke because, like most college students, I still have some growing up to do—and because there’s nowhere else I’d rather do it," Allen wrote in a Players Tribune article Nov. 14 explaining his decision to remain in Durham. "I’m back at Duke because I never left."
Even without Allen, the Blue Devils would have been lethal—they had the nation's top recruiting class with Marvin Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr. and Trevon Duval, among others. But with Allen in the starting five, Duke became arguably the most talented team in college basketball.
Allen quickly set the tone for his senior year at Countdown to Craziness with a wild dunk from the foul line over two cheerleaders. He put the college basketball world on alert—he was back, ready to put tripping incidents behind him and to win another title.
So far, Allen has been a leader for Duke—although he has taken a backseat to Bagley as the Blue Devils' go-to scorer while keeping his emotions in check. In the process, he has regained his 3-point stroke, shooting a career best 45.2 percent from beyond the arc.
That was on full display in a career-high 37-point outburst in a thrilling win against then-No. 2 Michigan State Nov. 14, in which Allen willed his team to win with 7-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc and several key baskets late. After that, he battled an undisclosed injury for a short stretch and struggled, but has since rebounded, save for a poor outing in a shocking loss against Boston College.
Heading into ACC play, Allen hopes to channel his sophomore and early-season self. In his sophomore season, he looked like the second coming of J.J. Redick, averaging 21.6 points per game while shooting 41.7 percent from deep. His scoring, along with his hustle, vicious dunks and clutch performance off the bench in the 2015 title game, earned him a spot as a Duke fan favorite and made him a finalist for the Wooden Award.
While battling injuries throughout the season, he cooled down his junior year, shooting only 36.5 percent from deep and averaging 14.5 points per game. He also received national scrutiny for tripping Elon's Steven Santa Ana, the third such incident of his career.
This year, Allen is looking to be a stabilizing force for another young team, the role Quinn Cook played on the national title-winning team his freshman year.
“I just tried to stay out of the way of the upperclassmen," Allen wrote in the Players Tribune piece. "Quinn Cook wasn’t having any of that. Quinn was the oldest guy on the team. He was our captain—our heart and soul. Quinn’s the type of person who, when he’s talking everybody in the room listens.”
Grayson Allen came back because he had some growing up to do. So far, he looks like the senior leader that could be the difference come March.
Check in tomorrow to see what story comes in at No. 3 on our list.
READ MORE about Allen's return and his senior season:
A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:
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