DURHAM, N.C. -- As she waited for her son to emerge from the Duke locker room, Sherry Allen should have been giddy. The Blue Devils had just beaten Florida State, their sixth win in seven games, and her son, Grayson, again had led his team in scoring with 18 points.
Instead, Sherry stood silently, trying to identify the feeling gnawing at her insides. Finally, it hit her. She felt helpless. And the recognition that she couldn't stop what was about to happen to her son and, worse, couldn't prepare him for it practically paralyzed her.
"I realized that this was going to change him forever,'' Sherry said recently, recalling that February evening. "I also knew he didn't know that. He wasn't going to know until it was too late, until he had the reality of it.''
What does it feel like to be caught in the social media storm known as "going viral"? To the Allens, it was like being swept up in a tidal wave. In a matter of 17 days, Grayson Allen went from a mild-mannered, Bible verse-tweeting potential All-American to the biggest villain in college basketball.
He did this to himself, purposefully tripping two opponents. First it was Louisville's Ray Spalding on Feb. 8, then Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes on Feb. 25. The first incident was surprising; the second incomprehensible, a pattern of dirty behavior that no longer could be written off as a "Did he or didn't he do it intentionally?" debate. No, he did it, with his right foot out, left heel up. It turned Grayson Allen into a trending topic on Twitter, an ignominious YouTube sensation and the topic of conversation around the country.
"I can't blame people for saying what they did,'' Grayson said. "I probably would have said the exact same thing.''
Now, with a new college basketball season around the corner, the Allens are waiting with trepidation to learn the statute of limitations on 2016 basketball crimes. When does last year's viral video disappear?
"It is time,'' Sherry said, "to put it to rest.''
Of course, she knows better. Sherry knows neither she nor anyone in her family gets to call a moratorium on the Grayson Allen tripping conversation. Her son now knows that, too. He understands he cannot undo what has already been done. He also knows some opinions of him will never change.
"I know there's never completely a blank slate,'' Grayson said. "That's going to be replayed and not forgotten about. But for me, every opportunity I get to step on the court is an opportunity to play the game again and play the game the right way.''
And, if after all of that, people choose to like him or loathe him, Grayson Allen isn't terribly concerned. He just hopes they will come to know who he really is.
Instead of who they think he is.
SO IMAGINE you live your entire life doing the right thing. You make good grades and star on the basketball court to earn a scholarship to Duke. You parlay that into spots on the All-American team and the Academic All-American team.
You've been on the planet for 20 years, or the equivalent of 630,000,000-plus seconds, and despite all that good, all of those achievements, the two worst nanoseconds of your life have come to define you.
This is what haunts Grayson Allen and his family.
He is ashamed of himself. Not in that fake, must-give mea cupla kind of way, in which he simply says, "I'm sorry. I made a mistake. I take responsibility.'' Of course he's sorry and knows what he did was wrong. That's the easy part. Dealing with the embarrassment? That's what causes him to twist his fingers into pretzels and choose each word carefully and deliberately as he sits with ESPN for on- and off-camera interviews earlier this month. It's the enormity of it all that's still causing him so much distress.
His teammates tried to brush it off. Freshman Frank Jackson cracked a joke about Allen's "little tripping problem.'' Senior Amile Jefferson said it was all merely because "people are going to talk,'' adding that, "when you're one of the best players in the country, any story they can have on you, especially when it's negative, they're going to put it out there.''
But they weren't him. They weren't the one caught in the crosshairs. He was. Allen spent a lifetime building a reputation as a person of high character, only to see it all disintegrate with two kicks of his feet. It wasn't his teammates, either, who put Mike Krzyzewski's own scruples under the microscope, with people questioning how a man of such high moral standards refused to even suspend his star player. No, Allen had to deal with that.
And his teammates didn't have to face their parents after that Florida State game. He did. He had to come face to face with the reality that he hadn't just embarrassed himself; he disappointed them.
"It was a lot,'' Grayson said, letting the simple words hang before continuing. "That was an emotional moment, an emotional night for me after that game.''
Allen holed up in his room for days. His parents called repeatedly telling him they'd get through it, to let it go and move forward.
"But that's so hard to do when it's on every sports channel, even in our local newspaper here (in Jacksonville, Florida)," Sherry said.
Following the first kicking incident, an ESPN.com story examined if Allen would be the next hated white player from Duke. The story linked Allen to Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick, two villains who, unlike Allen, came before him and embraced the hate.
"I didn't exactly help my own cause,'' Allen said.
The fervor trailed him through the rest of the season, chasing him like a recurring nightmare. Away games were awful, neutral-court NCAA crowds only marginally better. Social media was especially cruel.
"Most of the time when things like this happen, you're watching someone else on TV or seeing something on Twitter about someone else,'' he said. "There's always something going on with Twitter, and you're watching it like, 'Oh it's this person.' And then all of a sudden it's you, and it feels completely different.''
He avoided all of his accounts as best he could, but he's a college student, drawn to the social flame like a helpless moth. He couldn't avoid the media scrutiny, foregoing the "no comment" route and instead answering the same questions over and over. He offered no excuses because he really didn't have one.
Even now, months later, Allen doesn't have an explanation for his behavior. He likens it to a moment in middle school when an opposing mom hissed "miss it" during his free throws. After he made his free throws, he couldn't help himself -- he stuck his tongue out at her as he ran back down court.
Except then he was 12.
"On a much larger scale, this was exactly the same thing,'' Allen said. "It's definitely the same feeling, the 'Did I really just do that?' Like, you've got to be kidding me. You are so much smarter than that.''
HIS HOPE NOW is that maybe, in some twisted way, this will help him.
He's a master at challenging himself. Always has been. His mother recalls a kindergarten-aged boy who would frantically write, erase and rewrite his numbers and letters until they perfectly matched up with the dots on the paper provided. Today, thanks to doubling down on courses, Allen will be within enough credits of earning his degree that he will be permitted to walk at graduation, a full year early.
As a kid, a shoeless -- and occasionally sockless -- Allen would spend hours alone on his Florida driveway shooting baskets, perfecting his shot until the net barely moved when the ball slashed through it. Now he enters his third season just 68 points shy of 1,000 at Duke.
While he's driven, Allen is not one to naturally court attention. He's more a natural-born introvert who describes his off-court personality as 'timid.' When the ebullient Duke freshman Harry Giles walked in for his interviews last month, everyone knew he'd arrived in the room. Allen almost snuck in. That's how he likes it. His teammates say he is one of the best at video games. Yet when given the chance to boast about his skills, the best Allen can come up with is: "I'd like to take the top claim on that.''
It's only on the basketball court that he truly comes out of his shell. The same person who sneaks into a room happily unnoticed is impossible to ignore once he crosses the lines. He plays with a recklessness that borders on foolishness, a self-assuredness that could be misconstrued as cockiness.
But that fire only burns internally, fueling him to play harder and work harder but not necessarily inspiring others to do the same. Krzyzewski, in fact, challenged Allen at the start of last season to stop being so selfish with his passion and use it instead to challenge his teammates. Allen became better, but leadership remained an uncomfortable, unnatural fit. Given his druthers, Allen would somehow be the best and let someone else be in charge.
The harsh glare of the spotlight forced him out of his comfort zone.
"Our boy is definitely growing up,'' William Allen said of his son.
And now, given all that he has been through in his relatively short time at Duke, Grayson can lend some guidance to a freshman class loaded with talent and the burden of expectation.
"It wasn't a smooth ride to get here to my junior year,'' he said. "I couldn't really tell those guys, teach them about adversity or anything like that if it's something I didn't go through. I think now I can talk to them a lot more.''
THEY WANT to move on. Not just the Allens. Ray Spalding and Xavier Rathan-Meyes would like to as well. When asked to talk about their individual encounters, Allen's "victims" both declined. Each said through athletics department officials that they harbored no ill will toward Allen. As far as they were concerned, the whole thing was in the past.
What will it take for everyone else to feel the same? A season without incident?
If Grayson Allen can't get that blank slate, what then can he do to at least get a second chance?
His mother knows the answer, only this time it's not making her feel helpless.
"We've moved forward because we know what kind of player he is and what kind of person he is,'' she said. "Now he just needs the chance to show everyone else.''
A little dose of the real Grayson Allen. Not just the viral one.