In the world of basketball, there are few figures as highly revered as Mike Krzyzewski.
The man is undeniably accomplished. He’s won five NCAA titles with Duke University. He’s won six gold medals with the United States Men’s National Team. He’s won 1,043 games over the course of his college career—some with Army, but most with Duke. He’s won a national coach of the year award 12 times. And, more recently, he’s won praise from some college basketball fans for how he handled his team’s slump.
Coach K is still recovering from back surgery he had in early January, so he isn’t on the sideline with the team right now. But that didn’t stop him from calling his players to a meeting at his house after the Blue Devils squandered a second-half lead to the Wolfpack, resulting in North Carolina State’s first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium in more than 20 years. The Wolfpack’s win represented Duke’s third loss in four games, and Coach K wasn’t happy.
According to an ESPN report, Coach K summoned his players to his house to inform them that they were temporarily banned from the locker room. What’s more, he told them they could not wear any Duke apparel. According to ESPN, he did not give them a set timeline, but will lift the restrictions when he feels his players are representing his program well.
While some people disagreed with Coach K, many former players and fans supported his actions. Former Duke star Jay Williams praised his old coach’s decision, saying, “He has to take extreme measures … this isn’t something he’s just decided to do for the first time in his career.”
Former Duke player and college basketball analyst Jay Bilas agreed, saying that the practice is more common than fans may think and suggesting that the players may take it seriously now, but will “laugh later” when they look back on the measures being put in place.
Personally, I’m inclined to think that locking players out of the locker room and restricting their dress code are both perfectly fine actions to take. Coach K obviously knows what he’s doing, he has clearly done this before, and he wouldn’t be doing it again if he didn’t know for sure that it works fine.
No, I don’t have an issue with these specific restrictions. My issue is with Coach K looking like a huge hypocrite for leveling strict punishments against his team for slumping, but ignoring Grayson Allen’s dirty, dangerous play.
Allen, a noted Ted Cruz-lookalike, has been caught tripping opponents countless times over the course of his Duke career. You can find compilation videos of all his dirty plays on YouTube. He has gained a reputation as a dirty player, and for good reason. I know there’s contact in basketball, and you can’t avoid that, but Allen’s actions go beyond “heat of the moment” or unintentional contact. He has a clearly sustained habit of bringing other players down. In December, it came to a boiling point in a game against Elon University.
While defending Steven Santa Ana, Allen found himself stuck on the baseline and resorted to dirty play once again. He lifted his foot into the back of Santa Ana’s knee and jerked his leg, forcing the Elon player to the ground. The incident was widely publicized and resulted in Coach K suspending his senior “indefinitely.” In a statement, Krzyzewski criticized his player, saying that Allen’s actions “do not meet the standards of Duke basketball.”
Apparently, Krzyzewski believes that a one-game suspension is long enough for Allen to learn his lesson. After sitting out for just one game, Allen was back in the lineup and back to his old tricks. Boston College fans got a personal taste of it when the Eagles traveled to Cameron Indoor Stadium over Christmas break and Allen kicked into Connar Tava.
But it wasn’t just against BC. Allen has tripped opponents multiple times since his suspension, most recently against Notre Dame on Monday night. Coach K’s discipline clearly hasn’t set in for Allen, and thus Krzyzewski needs to take serious action on this matter, too.
If he’s locking players out of the locker room and restricting their dress code simply for not living up to Duke’s expectations, why is Allen being given a free pass for his repeated attacks on other players? Surely violent, dirty play reflects worse on Duke than a simple slump.
It’s also interesting to debate why Krzyzewski is protecting Allen specifically. This season, Allen has been far from Duke’s only talent. The Blue Devils have a deep roster. If Coach K sits Allen, he still has the likes of Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Luke Kennard to dominate the court. He doesn’t need Allen to win, so why is he giving Allen a free pass? And disciplining Allen now will only result in good things for Duke’s opponents, Allen, and Coach K himself.
The tripping isn’t just giving Allen a bad name—it’s dangerous. It’s incredibly easy for a player to land wrong and sustain a serious, possibly career-ending injury. Freak injuries happen all the time in sports, even when the contact is not intentional. With Allen actively tries to send opponents to the floor, the likelihood that he will seriously injure someone before long is high. Krzyzewski needs to seriously suspend Allen to send a message to other coaches: I care about your players.
Alternatively, it may be Allen himself who ends up injured as a result of his actions. Allen has revealed himself to be a dirty player, and that puts a target on his back. Any time opposing players have the chance to dig at him, or trip him up, or foul him hard, you can bet they’ll take it. If Allen wants to play dirty, others can, too. And that places Allen at a high likelihood to sustain an injury himself. If not for the health of his opponents, Coach K should take serious action for the health of his player.
Finally, Krzyzewski needs to take action to enhance his own legacy. He’s highly accomplished and respected, and Allen will not singlehandedly ruin his legacy. But Coach K can improve it by taking hard action right now. If he really suspends Allen indefinitely or levels additional restrictions until Allen proves that he can play cleanly, it will reflect well on him. But for as long as Krzyzewski lowers the hammer on his team for slumping but ignores Allen’s dirty play, the revered coach will be nothing but a hypocrite in my eyes.
Featured Image by Gerry Broome / AP Photo