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Jazz pick Grayson Allen gets approval from Donovan Mitchell, now ready to win over Utah fans

Duke wing Grayson Allen talks to reporters during a six-person workout at Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 4, 2018.
Duke wing Grayson Allen talks to reporters during a six-person workout at Zions Bank Basketball Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 4, 2018.
James Wooldridge, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In the middle of Grayson Allen sharing his initial thoughts on being taken No. 21 overall by the Utah Jazz, a surprise visitor briefly interrupted his ESPN interview.

“I’m proud of you, bro,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell congratulated the former Duke star Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

The former college rivals are now teammates in Salt Lake City.

In 2017, when Mitchell was at Louisville, they got tangled up and fell to the floor which ended in Mitchell slyly slapping Allen in the face on the way up.

The incident is past them, though, as Mitchell also congratulated him not only face-to-face but also via Twitter.

“We’re friends, we obviously competed against each other when he was at Louisville and had some great battles,” Allen told Utah media via FaceTime. “So the mutual respect for each other’s game has been there and when I was working out for the draft in California, he came out there so we got to spend some time together so I’m really excited to be joining a team with him.

“It’s really cool when you get a warm welcome like that from the guy who was the leading scorer on the team right away and it kind of calms any nerves that you have about joining a new team.”

The four-year Blue Devils guard is also familiar with members of the Utah staff in head coach Quin Snyder and assistant Antonio Lang — both Duke alumni.

He traveled to the Zions Bank Basketball Campus on June 4 for one of the most competitive pre-draft workouts, alongside Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, UCLA’s Aaron Holiday and Creighton’s Khyri Thomas while holding his own.

Allen averaged 15.5 points, 4.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds as a senior at Duke and was named to the third-team All-ACC Team. He holds another connection with Snyder as one of three four-time All-ACC Academic honorees in Duke history.

“We got the Duke connection but I know he’s a great coach,” Allen said of Snyder. “I watched the Jazz play a lot, they moved the ball really well and Donovan obviously had a great rookie year so I’m excited. I know I’m going to learn a lot from him and his short experience in one year and from Coach Snyder and I’m just really happy.”

The Jazz also welcomed a pair of Snyder’s college teammates Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. to Utah for pre-draft workouts this month. Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin is aware of the old adage that former Duke players are stellar college stars but mediocre pros, but feels like the tide has turned with J.J. Redick, Kyrie Irving, Jabari Parker, Austin Rivers, Jayson Tatum and former Jazz guard Rodney Hood all thriving in the league, among others.

“They got better players now,” Perrin said. “I think with the young kids coming in nowadays they’re more advanced than guys 10 years ago at their age level.

“They play a lot of basketball, they play AAU, they got the opportunity to watch NBA games and players every night, they watch the games, they go and try to do the moves the pros are doing so I think they’re a lot more advanced now and (Duke coach) Mike (Krzyzewski) is getting one-and-dones who can play so it’s an evolution of the players.”

Grayson’s classmates Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento) and Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago) also went second and seventh overall. Duke broke UCLA’s record (1974-77) with a top-3 pick in each of the last five NBA drafts.

“There’s a lot of great players going to Duke now, so it’s a lot on one team and it’s harder to display all of your talents and all of your skills,” Duval said of Duke players. “It’s probably easier or better in the NBA to display your skills so there’s going to be great pros at Duke in college but when they get to the NBA you’ll see them blossom even more.”

Allen said he nearly declined the draft day invite to shake hands with commissioner Adam Silver on the Barclays Center stage, but he’s now happy he made the trip.

“I just feel like it was a moment I couldn’t miss,” Allen said. “Walking up on stage and shaking the commissioner’s hand. I’ve been watching the draft since I was a child so I’m just really happy that I made a choice to come.”

After four years in Durham, North Carolina, the 22-year-old will embark on a new journey in Salt Lake City. It’s good to know that Mitchell, a familiar face and franchise cornerstone, also approves of his newest teammate.

For any questions about his history of tripping incidents and perceived dirty play, Allen is confident that issues are behind him as he’s ready to win over Utah fans.

“I think that it’ll come quickly,” Allen said of gaining respect. “It’s obviously something that has to be earned and I know Utah, they have great fans and very passionate fans so it’s something that has to be earned but I think when I get out there and play with kind of competitive fire and passion and emotion that they’ll respect it.”