DURHAM, N.C. -- Grayson Allen’s name resonated throughout Cameron Indoor Stadium as the fans who packed the iconic sports venue for the annual “Countdown To Craziness” event watched the Jacksonville, Fla., native drop 10 points and dish four assists during the October intra-squad scrimmage.
Although the event served as the team’s first taste of game action, Allen already appeared in midseason form, attacking the rim and driving through the lane with the verve that has become something of a trademark for him. Following the 20-minute, one-half contest, Countdown’s festivities came to a close with the announcement of this year’s Iron Devil Champion belt recipient. After hearing his name broadcast over the public address system one final time that evening, Allen walked to center court to receive the honor from associate director of sports performance Will Stephens. Appropriately, Allen accepted the belt from Stephens in his Duke blue uniform, hair matted with sweat from his efforts in the game minutes earlier.
Awarded annually to the Blue Devil that leads the squad in overall strength and conditioning performance, the Iron Devil Champion belt serves as a symbol of the dedication and hard work displayed by a member of the team during the offseason. The belt was first unveiled in 2012, when former Duke standout Miles Plumlee etched his name in the record books as the inaugural recipient. Since then, a Blue Devil has been honored each year, as recognition of the individual’s unparalleled work ethic.
For Allen, entering his third season, he is well aware of the work necessary to continue improving to help the team achieve its goals. A savvy veteran, Allen knows the extra time spent in preparation is paramount in elevating one’s game.
“We have a schedule of workouts, but really, to be the team that we need to be, we have to come in and do extra stuff, so that’s why I’ve tried to lead by example,” Allen said. “I wanted to get my body right with Coach Will. I wanted to keep improving strength from last season, but I also have been working to get a little lighter than I played last year, back down to a weight that I was around my freshman year. My body feels as great as it ever has.”
The 6-foot-5 guard entered the 2016-17 campaign weighing in at just over 200 pounds, five pounds heavier than his freshman year, but slightly lighter than last season. Finding a balance between strength and mass allows Allen to maintain his agility and ability as a ball-handler, while also being able to absorb the contact he receives when driving to the basket. If the 2015-16 season was any indication — it was a campaign that saw Allen attempt 252 free throws, the most by a Duke guard since J.J. Redick attempted 256 in 2006 — he is sure to draw plenty of contact again this year. To play at such a high level, while demanding a great deal from his body, Allen recognizes that he must focus on the minutia of training.
“I have to spend (extra time) in the training room to get my body right, extra time after practice working on my game,” Allen said. “That extra time that we get in the gym, where there are no coaches, it’s just us, that’s really how we need to teach these guys and show them the work that it takes at the college level.”
This season, Allen joins graduate student Amile Jefferson and senior Matt Jones as a team captain. With a talented squad that includes six rookies, Allen understands the importance his leadership plays on this year’s team. After gaining experience as a floor general as a sophomore, Allen feels ready to embrace an even larger leadership role this season.
“Last year I needed to be a leader, and I was kind of forced into that leadership role,” Allen said. “This year, I think I’m ready for it. The young guys have been really good. They come in and they put the work in each day. That’s really all that we can ask for. As captains, we need to make sure our team is doing the work every day. They are respecting us as leaders, but in the same way, we are expecting them to be leaders, too.”
Though the team’s time together has been relatively short, Allen and his co-captains have worked to integrate the newest members into the fold. The freshmen have looked to the upperclassmen for guidance, both on and off the court, while also trying to find how they can fit into this year’s system. Freshman guard Frank Jackson has gleaned a great deal from Allen’s ability to not just lead vocally, but also by example. As Jackson continues acclimating himself to the college game, he has searched for a way to model his competitive spirit after that of Allen’s.
“Grayson has made me a better basketball player,” Jackson said. “He’s opened my eyes. He’s someone I look up to the most on the team. His desire to win and compete is something I’m still trying to find in myself. To go against him is hard. Grayson is pretty good. He definitely pushes me in a lot of ways.”
One couldn’t fault Allen for resting on his laurels. In the first two years of his college career, he already reached the pinnacle of the sport with the 2015 national championship team. Then he earned individual recognition following his sophomore season, claiming All-America honors and receiving ACC co-most improved player of the year recognition. This year he was voted preseason player of the year. Though he has already achieved so much in such a short amount of time in Durham, Allen shows no signs of complacency as he looks ahead to the upcoming season.
“I just think about my goals,” Allen said. “I go back to thinking about why I’m here at Duke, and that’s to work. I want to be a part of a great team. In order for us to be a great team, we have a long way to go, and we have to keep working.”