First, Grayson Allen tripped somebody yet again. Then, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski tripped up all by himself when deciding Allen’s punishment.
Coach K said he was going to suspend his star “indefinitely” after Allen tripped an opposing player for the third time in calendar year 2016. That indefinite suspension turned out to last exactly one game – a Duke loss –before Krzyzewski re-inserted Allen into the lineup Wednesday.
Yes, Krzyzewski also stripped Allen of his captaincy. And social media has already had a field day, calling for Allen to be a spokesman for “Trip Advisor” and so on. Duke fans will say, I’m sure, that Allen has already been punished enough.
But to me, this one-game punishment doesn’t pass the smell test. It just doesn’t feel right.
Allen embarrassed himself, the Duke brand and ultimately the sport of college basketball when he tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana on Dec. 21. With a chance to make a larger statement about what he won’t put up with, Krzyzewski has instead made a statement about exactly what he will tolerate from a serial tripper. This was like taking the car keys from your son “indefinitely” on a Tuesday and then giving them back for his date on Friday night.
Allen played in the second half against Elon after the blatant trip (which also earned him a technical foul and led to his meltdown on the bench). Then he apologized to Santa Ana and Elon’s coach. Then he missed one game, and on Wednesday played again as Duke blew out Georgia Tech.
My colleague Luke DeCock believes the one-game suspension was appropriate. But to me, it feels like Coach K wanted to get all his ducks in a row and all the hard decisions out of the way before his pending back surgery and subsequent leave of absence of up to four weeks.
This all could have been done differently by Coach K simply issuing a statement that said Allen was suspended for three games (one for each tripping incident – that’s what I would have done). Then Allen could return.
Alternately, the ACC could have stepped in and said, “Look, this isn’t what we stand for and one game isn’t enough.”
Instead, none of that happened. The ACC meekly stepped out of the way. Coach K did what he wanted to do, as he most always does, and nobody stopped him. I know there are many, many worse things in the world than tripping up somebody on a basketball court, but c’mon. One game?
OK, let’s get this out of the way. I graduated from the University of North Carolina. That’s no secret, and it always comes up whenever I write anything negative about Duke.
But if this were Roy Williams and Justin Jackson had tripped somebody three times and gotten the same punishment, I would feel the same way. (UNC athletics, of course, will eventually face larger punishments for much larger offenses for its endless NCAA scandal, but that’s another story.)
There is no playbook for this, as Krzyzewski has noted. And Lord knows I have doled out incorrect punishments before for my four kids, sometimes too severe, sometimes too mild. But this just feels wrong. If Coach K was going to err on one side or the other on this one, after all of Allen’s previous history, he needed to err on the side of harshness.
Allen already had his second chance.
And his third.
And yet – after a one-game break – Allen is still not out. Coach K tripped up on this one.