The basketball careers of Duke’s Grayson Allen and Elon’s Steven Santa Ana merged last December in a way neither would have preferred.
In that game, Allen, then a junior and a Blue Devils’ co-captain, became entangled with and tripped then-sophomore Santa Ana in a moment that would change the course of Allen’s season.
This Friday, the Blue Devils and the Phoenix – and Allen and Santa Ana – play against each other for the first time since that tripping incident.
After Allen tripped Santa Ana, Allen, the 6-5, 205-pound Duke guard, received a technical foul and was removed from the game. On the bench, he screamed in frustration, an outburst caught on video and played over and over again on TV and on social media. He was recorded again in the locker room after the game, this time subdued, emotional and apologetic.
Following Duke’s 72-61 win on Dec. 21 over Elon, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski orchestrated a meeting between Allen and Santa Ana, along with Elon coach Matt Matheny, in a room across from the locker rooms at the Greensboro Coliseum. Allen apologized to Santa Ana for the incident. It was the third time that year Allen had tripped an opposing player during a game.
That night in his postgame comments, Krzyzewski condemned Allen’s actions.
“I’m a teacher and a coach, and I’m responsible for that kid,” Krzyzewski said. “I know him better than anybody, and so to think that it’s the last thing that’s said about it to him is wrong. We lost our composure. What Grayson did was unacceptable.”
The following day, Krzyzewski suspended Allen and stripped him of his team captaincy. Allen missed just one game, Duke’s ACC opener, an 89-75 loss at Virginia Tech.
After the Elon game, a tearful Allen admitted he “made a bad play.” When asked about what caused the incident, he took responsibility.
“Talking about what led up to it is just an excuse,” Allen said. “There’s no excuse for it.”
A 6-4, 190-pound guard from Charlotte, Santa Ana didn’t let the incident sidetrack his sophomore season. He averaged 11.7 points for Elon while leading the team with 71 3-pointers. Against Duke that December night in Greensboro, Santa Ana made just 3 of 11 shots, and made 1 of 6 3-point shots.
Santa Ana and Matheny declined to comment about the incident or Santa Ana’s relationship with Allen for this story.
Mike Craft, who coached Santa Ana at Charlotte’s Ardrey Kell High School, told the Charlotte Observer last December that his former player would have preferred to get national attention for his play rather than for a controversy.
After the game against Duke, Santa Ana traded text messages with Craft.
“I said, ‘You’re all over social media,’ ” Craft told the Charlotte Observer. “He said, ‘Yes, but I wish it was because I played so well, but I can’t get shots to fall.’ He wasn’t harping on the incident. That says a lot about him. He was just worried about how he played and how Elon played than what happened.”
After averaging 14.5 points per game as a junior, Allen returned this year to Duke for his senior season. Duke’s players voted him a team captain again this season..
And on Friday, Allen and Santa Ana meet again.
Elon at Duke
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham
TV: ACC Network Extra