Allen, a 6-foot-3 freshman who played his first three seasons in high school at Science Hill before transferring to Christ School near Asheville, found himself both humbled and beaming with pride on college basketball’s brightest stage when the Terriers played second-seeded Michigan in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday in Milwaukee. A 57-40 loss to last year’s national runner-up only briefly dimmed the mood in the limelight’s afterglow.
Allen officially entered March Madness with 14:03 left in the first half, and 101 seconds later he made a short jumper to cut Michigan’s lead to 9-6.
His parents, Shane Williams and Wendy Allen, were in attendance. An assistant coach at Carson-Newman who helped Science Hill to its first state title in 1990, Williams was a tough-minded quarterback highly respected by the taxing, hot-tempered Kevin O’Neill at Tennessee. Williams’ clock never quit ticking at Tennessee, where he averaged a school-record 38.3 minutes per game in 1994-95 and 37.2 the following season. But time surely stood still for Williams when Allen played in the NCAA tournament.
“I was excited,” Williams said, “but I was more excited for my dad and them, because I knew they was watching the game at his house and all the people that was there. Jaylen’s grandmother. Jaylen’s uncle had something at his house. I wish I could’ve seen their reaction when he scored. …
“People around me, we were high-fiving and all that stuff. It was an enjoyable experience. I’m glad we got a chance to do that.”
Williams sat near the court across from Wofford’s bench.
“I could tell he was (excited),” Allen said, “but he was trying to keep calm and keep his composure. He was probably more excited than I was. I was in the moment just taking it in stride and he was really hyped.”
Well, Allen’s focus was temporarily blurred by his basket, which sort of dazed him for a moment.
“I don’t know – just for a freshman to get in and score a basket in the NCAA tournament was kind of big,” Allen said. “And as I was running down the court I was like, I couldn’t believe what happened. I was just playing (before I scored), but then I was running back down the court and I was like, ‘Man, I just scored in the NCAA tournament; that’s pretty huge.’”
Some four minutes later he’d picked up three personal fouls, though he wasn’t crazy about the second one — a block while guarding Nik Stauskas. Allen wasn’t in awe of the Big Ten player of the year.
“One thing that’s really helped Jaylen is he’s been able to guard Karl Cochran every day in practice,” said Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a Dobyns-Bennett alumnus who played for Cary Daniels in the late ’90s. “Karl’s our leading scorer. So he’s gotten really good defensively. And on the flip side of that, Karl’s guarding him, and Karl was up for defensive player of the year in the conference.
“Jaylen’s tough and he is not afraid of anyone. We kind of laugh at him sometimes; he’s not backing down from anybody. We threw him in there at VCU and St. Louis and Minnesota and Georgia.”
Allen was 3 of 4 from 3-point range and had two steals against St. Louis and made 3 of 5 treys at VCU. He averaged 5.2 points per game and was second on the team in steals and 3-pointers thanks to 38.4 percent shooting behind the arc.
Kerns noted Allen’s two 3-pointers in a key 10-2 spurt in the second half of what had been a tightly contested Southern Conference tournament quarterfinal with The Citadel.
Allen and Kerns frequently needle one another about the Science Hill/Dobyns-Bennett rivalry. Allen made a shot from some 65-70 feet against D-B.
“We talk about how we could never beat them in football and we finally got ’em,” Allen said, “and how he never beat Science Hill when he played (basketball) at Dobyns-Bennett. So that’s kind of funny. And I never lost to Dobyns-Bennett my whole time at Science Hill either.”
Said Kerns: “I never beat Science Hill. That was George Pitts, Danny Sterbenz … Demetric Stevens. I never beat them, but I loved being a part of that rivalry and I loved being a part of those games, because I grew up watching them.”
Kerns pointed out when D-B’s basketball team snapped a long losing streak to Science Hill this season.
“I’ll come down to practice and I’ll know the score or something like that,” Kerns said. “The first time we see each other in the day, sometimes we’ll razz each other with a little D-B/Science Hill. We’ll talk a little Johnson City-Kingsport, Pal’s hot dogs or something.”
Allen, who was able to play two years at Christ School after reclassifying as junior, learned you can go home again after securing the NCAA tournament berth. The number of friends, family and other Johnson Citians wishing him well was almost overwhelming.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Allen said. “I can’t even explain it, really. That’s been one of the most exciting things for me, just all those people wishing me luck and just being interested in what’s going on in my life and taking the time out to congratulate me on making it. I appreciate them for that. … Seeing all of those people that actually care about you is cool.”
Former Science Hill teammate Will Adams, who just completed his freshman season near Allen at Presbyterian in Clinton, S.C., called to wish him well prior to the Michigan game. And a familiar face met Allen not long after he returned to Spartanburg around 4 a.m. on Friday.
Alabama’s Shannon Hale, who made the SEC all-freshman team this season, traveled from Tuscaloosa to spend part of spring break with Allen. They played together two years at Christ School, where they won an Arby’s Classic title, after playing two years together at Science Hill.
Hale eagerly watched Wofford against Michigan after seeing Allen help the Terriers beat Western Carolina in the Southern Conference title game.
“I was excited for him — to see him on ESPN and perform well and then get the W to win the tournament,” Hale said. “It made me happy to see him accomplish that and then go to the (NCAA) tournament.”
Allen wasn’t surprised by the 6-foot-8 Hale’s sudden SEC impact. Hale averaged 8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and made 31 treys. He had 27 points and nine rebounds against Ole Miss.
“He had a really good freshman year,” Allen said. “A lot of people didn’t know what he was gonna do, but I knew he had it in him the whole time. … He’s plenty big enough, plenty good enough. Yeah, he can play.”
Hale intends to experience March Madness, too.
“Everything should fall in place,” Hale said. “We’re getting some really good recruits next year.”
Wofford will expect to be back in the tournament next season. The Terriers return their top nine players, and coach Mike Young has taken the Terriers to three NCAA tournaments the past five five years.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Allen said. “We play defense like I’ve never played defense before. Every time you step on the floor you know exactly what the other team’s gonna do.”
Kerns loosely compares Young, who played for the passionate Bob Johnson at Emory & Henry (’86), to mid-major fixtures Rick Byrd (Belmont) and Davidson’s Bob McKillop.
“Coach Young’s wife went to Wofford,” Kerns said. “His kids have been able to live in the same house their whole life. I think he puts a lot of value into that. He’s kind of put his stamp on the program. I’m not sure if we didn’t go to a couple of more tournaments, he could have his name on the court or something.”
Wofford might have to go through talented East Tennessee State to get back next season. ETSU will return to the league after nine seasons in the Atlantic Sun.
“I’m glad they are back in the SoCon,” said Kerns, who was excited to see ETSU legend Calvin Talford at the tournament last week in Asheville.
“I grew up watching him,” Kerns said. “One of the best athletes I’ve ever seen.”
Of course, Allen is the Johnson Citian that Kerns is most eager to see next season in Asheville — with a little more strength and ballhandling polish.
“We love him,” Kerns said. “Coach Young loves him. We’re excited about his future. … If we can get him 10 more pounds he’s gonna be a very good Southern Conference player, because I think he’s got an edge to him.”comments powered by Disqus