SALT LAKE CITY — Grayson Allen's cell phone is flooded with constant calls, text messages and notifications on a regular basis.
But no matter how busy he may be, the Utah Jazz rookie certainly finds time to respond when his phone rings — or vibrates — from the man simply known as Coach K.
“We’ve called or texted around big milestones,” Allen said of his Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Throughout the offseason, preseason, regular season and most recently after New Year’s, Krzyzewski still finds time to check in with his former player despite coaching the No. 1 college basketball program in the nation.
“I text with Grayson quite a bit, my family does,” Krzyzewski told the Deseret News. “Grayson’s part of our family.”
Allen’s playing time has increased lately with the absence of Jazz guards Raul Neto (groin strain), Ricky Rubio (hamstring strain) and Dante Exum (ankle sprain). He put up seven points with three assists in 24 minutes of Utah’s 115-99 win versus Cleveland on Friday night.
After missing nine games with a right ankle sprain he suffered while on assignment with the Salt Lake City Stars of the G League, Allen has returned to average seven points and two assists in 18.1 minutes these last four contests.
Utah is riding a season-high six-game win streak and Allen has contributed in four of those while still accepting the challenge of becoming a better defender.
“What Grayson’s done in the G League, (Stars coach) Martin Schiller and his staff deserve a lot of credit,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “He made a commitment to defending and now he comes back, and he’s going to keep getting better defensively, but it allows him to take your conscious mind and put it somewhere else.”
Krzyzewski understands the challenges that the 23-year-old Allen is facing while finding his way at the next level after coaching numerous pros such as Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, J.J. Redick and Brandon Ingram, to name a few.
It’s that Duke brotherhood throughout the league — including on the Jazz’s coaching staff with Snyder and assistant Antonio Lang — that has benefitted Allen tremendously.
“I thought it was so opportunistic for Grayson (to get drafted by Utah). First of all, the fans in Utah, the franchise there, it’s family-owned,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s more like a collegiate setting.
“The whole community is behind the team so for any player to be in that environment is so good, and for me to know that Grayson has that guidance, that Quin will bring him along in the way he needs to be brought along,” he continued. “It’s an adjustment and the fact of playing in the G League, being on the parent team, and getting playing time, learning… this is a heck of a year for Grayson and thank God it’s monitored so closely by a great franchise.”
In addition to his time with the Jazz, Allen has appeared in six games with the Stars on seven assignments in the G League. His season averages with the Jazz are a modest 4.6 points and 0.7 assists in 11.3 minutes, but he’s putting up 15.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and two assists in 30.6 minutes per game with the Stars and hasn’t approached it with a negative mindset.
“Fortunately, I haven’t viewed anything as a tough time yet so I think I’ve been kind of lucky from that standpoint, but it’s very encouraging to just have that and just to have a reminder there (from Coach K),” Allen said.
Utah selected Allen with the 21st overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft after a stellar four-year career at Duke. Allen won an NCAA title in 2015 and received First-Team All-ACC honors with the Blue Devils. Even as an NBA rookie, he still follows the program closely and always looks forward to those calls or texts from Coach K.
“I’m very lucky to be in a place where you can travel and spend a lot of time in your hotel room alone, but I never feel alone. I never feel like I’m alone on this journey,” Allen said of the Duke connection. “I always have someone reaching out, wishing me good luck and telling me to keep my head up or just something. So it’s very encouraging and very comforting to have that.”
So even as he finds his role in Salt Lake City, Krzyzewski’s advice is never simply for Allen to keep his head up, even when he’s not playing. It’s more so that he’s fortunate to be in this situation while fulfilling his lifelong dream.Comment on this story
“You’re lucky to be there. You’re fortunate to be in the NBA,” Krzyzewski says to Allen. “Learn your craft. That’s what we say, and that combination of doing both is good for you. You can’t just sit and watch.
“The opportunity to play in the G League is a great one,” he continued. “Throughout the league, the starting backcourt for the Spurs are two of the guys from the G League, so that doesn’t mean you’re negative, that you can’t do it, it means you can do it but just stay in there and be really positive all the time, which I think he is.”