Vikings transfer Allen showing he belongs on court
Jan. 14, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
BEN FLETCHER - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Last year as a member of the Washington State men's basketball team, John Allen logged 43 minutes on the court.
On Jan. 2, the starting point guard for this year's Western Washington hoops squad dropped 43 points on a visiting Simon Fraser team.
Maybe the decision to leave a reputable Pac-10 basketball program wasn't so difficult.
If it was, Allen, who now calls Bellingham home and is glad to do so, doesn't let on. Even as he watches his former Cougars teammates rattle off win after win at the Division I level while rolling to a 13-5 season.
"I knew when I was leaving I was probably missing out on a couple of good years," Allen said in a recent phone interview. He was buddies with guys like Klay Thompson, a player with NBA lottery potential, DeAngelo Casto and Reggie Moore and has enjoyed watching them do well this season.
But the sophomore transfer has found a new home with the Division II Vikings, and the fit seems as comfortable as a worn pair of Nikes. For much of the season, Allen has run the top offense in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (85.8 points per game) - playing with guys he feels have Division I talent - and provided plenty of scoring punch of his own.
"From the beginning I felt this was the right decision and it turned out to be a great situation for me," Allen said.
Best of all, he's back on the court, playing ball. You can catch him when the Vikings (9-4, 4-1) host GNAC-leading University of Alaska-Anchorage (13-3, 5-0) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15.
That wasn't always the case.
After deciding to walk on at Washington State at the behest of then-coach Tony Bennett, Allen was plagued by an injured back that landed him a medical redshirt year as a freshman. He eventually took on an intense stretching routine to help him overcome the tightness in his back and allow him to play the next year, but it still bothers him here and there.
Allen's constantly leaning one way or the other to loosen any muscles that will loosen has given his teammates plenty of fodder to jest. But he's not about to stop.
"If I'm standing around, I'll be stretching," Allen said.
Allen's foray into Pac-10 basketball stalled when Bennett left to coach at Virginia and the guard found minutes hard to come by under the new regime. He was also looking at playing another year and attending school in Pullman without the aid of a scholarship.
Allen found all that at Western, a school that recruited him out of Mountlake Terrace, where he once scored 39 points as a junior.
"I always wanted to come here from high school. My initial decision was to come here," said Allen, who ultimately opted to take a chance at playing Pac-10 ball. "I really liked coach (Brad) Jackson and I liked the area."
Those intrigued by the sophomore's near automatic stroke at the free throw line, which at almost 92 percent free throw shooting ranks 12th in the nation this season, can look back at those Mountlake Terrace days.
One game in particular - the contest prior to his 39-point outburst - saw Allen at the free throw line with a chance to ice the game with his team up by one.
He missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and a guy on the other team went down a sank a jumper for the win.
"Ever since then I was like 'I can't miss free throws,'" Allen said. "It destroyed me."
It also made him a better basketball player.
The sophomore transfer hit 16 of 18 free throws during his 43-point effort in a 99-92 win over Simon Fraser on Jan. 2, tying a record for the most points scored in a single game at the Vikings' Sam Carver Gym. Allen poured in 24 of those points in the final nine minutes of the first half to help bring Western back from an early 16-point deficit.
"I just got hot," Allen said, as if accompanied by a shrug.
But there's more to the story. Prior to that, Allen was on the bench after a rough start, but mentally remained in the game and saw some weakness to exploit, such as Simon Fraser defenders failing to hedge out far enough on on-ball screens. Allen finished 5 for 8 from 3-point land and 11 of 18 overall from the field.
"They let me get my momentum going, and I just ran with it," he said.
Allen showed off a similar scoring burst the following game, collecting 18 of his 24 points in the second half of an 80-74 road win over Saint Martin's on Jan. 6.
Through 12 games, Allen has averaged 12.8 points, but as a point guard his contributions come in many forms. He leads the team in assists at 3.8 per game and his 2.2 steals per game rank second in the GNAC. He's also part of a young and promising backcourt that includes fellow starting guard Zach Henifin, a junior, and Rico Wilkins, an athletic 6-footer who shared the point position with Allen before his junior season was cut short by injury. Michael Duty, a 6-foot-6 post, is the lone senior on the squad.
"I think we're playing good," Allen said. "We're showing signs of a young team. We're up and we're down."
But Allen admits the team has a way to go to reach its lofty standards.
"I don't think we're anywhere near our standards, but we're growing," he said.
The team can take a big step forward with a win over Alaska Anchorage, which ranks No. 25 nationally in Division II. Allen's Cougars played and beat the Seawolves by 19 last year, but the six-footer, who in that contest collected two points, two rebounds, two assists and one steal in six minutes, remembers them being tough.
Saturday's game is exactly the type Allen envisioned being on the court for once he arrived at the college level - a first-place standing in league quite possibly on the line and in front of a home crowd like the one that will greet the teams at Sam Carver Gym.
This season's been a long time coming.
"It's one of those feelings you can't explain. ... It's one of those things you feel real blessed for," Allen said.
Now the guard gets to do it all in front of his family, too. Allen grew up in Brier, a small town outside of Lynnwood, just an hour or so away. But for the time being Bellingham has been feeling a bit more like home to Allen than, say, a "party town" like Pullman.
"I'm a pretty calm, laid back guy," Allen said, "so this fits me pretty well."
Just, if you see him around town, don't give him any guff for stretching.
Western Washington Vikings Sidebar Links
|Email this article||Printer-friendly format|