But since then, Krzyzewski, the Hall of Famer and leader for coaching victories in major men’s basketball, has turned Duke into the most formidable factory of so-called one-and-dones, those highly sought players who spend a single season in college simply to fulfill N.B.A. rules and then declare for the draft (and sign multimillion-dollar pro contracts).
Nine Duke underclassmen were selected in the past four N.B.A. drafts. All five of this season’s starters, including Allen, are projected as first-round picks, which would match Kentucky’s record from 2010. The other four are freshmen.
Krzyzewski’s new way of doing business has also given rise to a new archetype: the Duke Senior — a kind of story Duke tells itself in order to keep being Duke. Allen is the unlikeliest and most intriguing Duke Senior so far.
Recruiting one-and-done talents has a clear upside — it gets you the best players — and in 2015 it produced Krzyzewski’s fifth national title. The downside is teams that take awhile to jell (sometimes longer than the season lasts) and, in the meantime, are susceptible to being exposed by lesser squads like the sub.-500 St. John’s team that stunned the Blue Devils on Saturday.
“Maturity of the game, not just individually but collectively, is something we have to teach in a condensed period of time,” Krzyzewski said.
The one-and-done model can also cause malaise among fans. Throughout college basketball, traditionalists complain about the increased prevalence of underclassmen, who not only betray their inexperience but rarely have time to forge a connection between fan and team. “You used to get the chance to know them,” goes the common refrain. “Now I don’t even know half their names.”
Duke fans feel this grievance viscerally because Krzyzewski avoided recruiting one-and-dones longer than some other top coaches, and now does it better than any other.
“I’m tired of watching it,” the longtime Washington Post sports columnist (and Duke graduate) John Feinstein tweeted after Saturday’s game, referring to “one-and-dones who pretty much only care about their draft position.”
This development has not stopped Duke fans from being Duke fans.
“Any fan base, and it doesn’t matter which, they’ll rationalize whatever they’re doing,” said the ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former Krzyzewski player and assistant coach.
Instead, Duke fans and players, led by Krzyzewski, have grabbed hold of the idea of the Duke Senior. He may not be the team’s best player — or even the third best — but his experience and wisdom, the argument goes, lend a necessary, if intangible, patina to the apprentices surrounding him.
Before the 2015 title run, Krzyzewski said “our most valuable guy” was the senior Quinn Cook, even though by objective measurements that honor belonged to one of the three freshmen who were selected in the first round of the N.B.A. draft that summer.
Last season, as Duke won the Atlantic Coast Conference title primarily through the genius of the sophomore Luke Kennard (now of the Detroit Pistons) and the freshman Jayson Tatum (the Boston Celtics’ likely rookie of the year), the Duke Seniors were Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones.
“He does valuable things for us, or else we wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Krzyzewski said of Jones, Duke’s sixth-leading scorer, adding, “There are valuable things that only people who want to look deeper into it see.”
This year, the Duke Senior is Allen. What is surprising is the plethora of roles he has already played.
As a freshman, he was the Blue Devils’ inspirational story, a bench-warmer who came alive in the national title game to jump-start a come-from-behind victory. The next season, he was the budding star, the team’s leading scorer. Next, he was the enfant terrible, suspended and stripped of his captaincy for maturity issues that included a predilection for kicking opponents.
For non-Duke fans he also filled another, time-tested role: the (white) Duke villain.
This season, Allen has been statistically peripheral. Duke’s explosive offense revolves around three freshmen: Marvin Bagley III, who averages more than 21 points and 11 rebounds a game; Duval, the point guard; and Gary Trent Jr., the team’s best shooter. (Duke’s defense? The less said about that the better.)
But by several accounts, Allen is genuinely his team’s leader.
“G is usually the one who gets us together, tells us what we need to do,” Duval said. “He’s been through it. This is his fourth year. He’s been doing it for three years. He’s seen it all, he knows the situations we’re in, how we need to be.”
Allen has accepted this role. He said on Saturday that he saw his job as to “keep us together as a team, talk to all the guys, make sure we’re all on the same page — the same page as Coach.”
As for Krzyzewski, his frustration with his team’s youth was explicit after the St. John’s defeat. “We’re really young,” he said. “Young is more susceptible to inconsistency.”
But those who wish Krzyzewski would stop recruiting one-and-dones — or believe he is sick of it — might want to take a look at next year’s class. After Zion Williamson’s commitment last month, Duke will have the top three players in the class of 2019. It is very unlikely any of them will stick around long enough to be the next Duke Senior.