Where It All Started…
I grew up in a small town by the name of Malta, which was about two hours outside of Chicago. The population was about eight hundred people and my school, Malta High School, had seventy-eight students enrolled. Being a 6’8 human being definitely has some perks in a small town. In 1999, I was a Two-Time All-State Basketball Player, Three-Time Little Ten Conference All-Conference Performer, and managed to graduate with a 3.8 GPA. Til this day, I hold the Malta High School scoring record (2,143 points) and rebound record (929 rebounds). It is safe to say that I had a successful high school career, but I wasn’t going to stop there. My dream was to become the first Division 1 basketball player out of Malta High School. I learned very fast that in order to make a dream come true, you had to put in the work. First, I made sure I surrounded myself with people that I knew would push me harder when I got too comfortable, and support me when the naysayers told me I couldn’t do it. I had to overcome people constantly telling me I wasn’t good athletic enough or the town I come from was too small. This was only the beginning to a long journey.
Sometimes It Takes a Little Dirty Work…
I went into my senior season with not one Division 1 scholarship offer. I remember during December of my senior season I thought to myself, “maybe those who doubted me are right.” I became discouraged, but a little support from momma got me right back on track. My family and friends started to instill self-belief into me, and it motivated me to put in the time and effort to achieve my goal of becoming a Division 1 basketball player. One day during my Senior year my mother read a book on recruitment and how to recruit the recruiters. After reading that book, we started to build a highlight tape to send to coaches all around the nation. I grew up in the VHS era; therefore, we sent off heavy VHS tapes in packages with my resume. Days after the tapes went out, I started to get phone calls from several Division 1 Colleges across the nation and my recruitment and interest went to the next level. After taking a visit to Tempe, Arizona to meet with the Arizona State Sun Devils, I decided that ASU was the place I wanted to advance my academic and basketball career. Even though going to a big university would be a challenge, I figured it couldn’t be too hard when it’s always sunny and you are playing for one of the best basketball conferences in the nation, the Pac 10. My dream had come true, but now I was hungry for more.
Living My Dream…
I learned very quickly that your job isn’t finished once you have accomplished a goal. You must continue to work hard, if not harder, to maintain that goal. My freshman year at Arizona State was fair, to say the least. I was able to play every game that year, find my role on the team, and I had outline of what I needed to do to get better throughout my college career. But just as most college freshmen, my grades had suffered severely. It got bad to the point of me almost being ineligible. It was hard for me to adapt to the change of culture, living on my own, and of course a new world of women. All these things had a negative impact on my grades; however, I always stayed focus on basketball. I went into the summer after my freshman year knowing what I had to do to get my academics back on track and how to increase my playing time on the court.
The Calm Before the Storm…
As I worked out over the summer continuing my weight program to gain weight, I noticed the exact opposite started to happen. I started to feel sick and I was down about 5 to 10 pounds heading back to Arizona State for my sophomore year. I had work so hard to get to 240 pounds from 180 pounds coming in my freshman year. I continued to workout with the team in the Fall. It was a constant grind between weight lifting, conditioning, training on the court, and increasing my GPA. I thought I had pulled an abdominal muscle due to all of the stomach pain, but I was soon to find out that it was more serious than that. The trainers had treated me for a pulled abdominal muscle, until things got more serious. We had an early 5 a.m. practice one day and I felt extremely exhausted. My body felt like it was giving up on me and I knew that this wasn’t normal. As I was suiting up for practice, I had passed out and I needed to go to the hospital. The doctors had performed a multitude of tests and I was soon diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of Lymphoma Cancer. At that moment I had felt like everything I had worked for was for nothing. I had worked so hard to get to play on the Division 1 level and I worked even harder to ensure I could make an impact at that level. Every thing had been so perfect up until this moment. I soon realized that God gave his hardest assignments to his most resilient warriors. Just when I had thought I faced my toughest challenge yet, I had to prepare to battle cancer with the support of my team, coaches, and my family.
A Battle Within Itself…
During these hard times I had the unwavering support of my family, a community, and a close knit ASU athletic program. While battling this disease I had an experience, a sort of awakening that forever changed my life. One minute I was an 18-year-old basketball player with dreams of playing for a championship, and suddenly I was facing the biggest challenge of his life. I shifted my attention to battling not on the basketball court, but instead battling for my life. I took a full academic schedule and decided that I was not going to let this disease set me behind anymore than I already had done my self my freshman year. I went to every single practice and game that I was physically capable of attending and sat next to the coaches and studied the game. When feeling up to it, I sat in the corner and shot 3 point shot after 3 point shot, not wanting to lose my jumper. After a yearlong battle with cancer, I learned that there was no sign of the tumors that once had filled my body and I immediately, against all odds, set my sights on a quick return to the court. The experience had been a traumatic one, but the shift in my attitude and academics would ultimately prove the experience to be invaluable to my development as an athlete and more importantly a person. The very next season I found himself on the court and in a Sun Devil Uniform, a feat that many didn’t think was possible. I often say that cancer was a blessing and while it seems like an odd statement, it is 100 percent true. I am not sure where I would have been in life if I did not have this challenge to overcome and this wake up call that changed my perspective on life.
I played another three years at Arizona State going to the NIT tournament 2 times and the Final 32 in the NCAA tournament in 2004. The next 3 seasons I was constantly battling fatigue and injuries that were surely after effects of the chemo, radiation, and the beating my body had taken. I struggled with posttraumatic depression as mentally I was struggling to not feel like my self on the court. I took on my role from the coaches and my shift changed from “I have to get to the NBA” to “I love this game of basketball and what it can do for my life.” My mental shift created a maturity level that I am not sure I would have reached if it weren’t for my battle. My mindset shifted to not what the game of basketball was going to get for me (money, girls, NBA), but instead it changed to what the game has provided me. I started to see the game as a vessel along my journey and a way that my passion had provided me with countless opportunities. The game up to this point had gotten me my school paid for, friendships that would last a life time, and it had taught me life lessons that would be hard to learn any other way. Not even realizing how the much more the game was going to provide me along my future journey. Cancer was not the end of my story, it was only the beginning
During my time at ASU, I was awarded with:
The Jimmy Valvano National Comeback Player of the Year
The Gene Autry Courage Award
The NCAS Courage Award
The Sparky Golden Heart Award
Featured in”100 Heroes: People in sports who make this a better world,” by Richard E. Lapchick
3-time Pac-10 All Academic award winner, graduated with a 3.47 G.P.A
Upon graduation I took a head varsity coaching job at Florence High School in Florence, Arizona. During my first season coaching, I learned valuable lessons on player, personal development, and mental development of youth athletes and thought that I had started my career as a high school coach. After just one season, I had an itch to play basketball again and chase down one of my dreams of playing professional basketball. It was a hard spot to be in as I had taken one year off from playing and my college stats were not eye catching for teams and agents alike. I could not get an agent to give me a call back, I guess a slow guard or undersized forward who averaged 3 points per game in college was not on the top of there list. I finally accepted an invitation by one of my former ASU teammates to a Free Agent Camp at an international scouting event in Las Vegas, NV. The forward that was suppose to attend could no longer show up and they were desperate for another body. My ex teammate set it up and I headed to Las Vegas to give playing basketball another attempt. While in Vegas we played five games against high level competition and and in those give 5 games I averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds, shooting over 55 percent from the three point line. A career shift was about to happen, unintentionally, but again one that would prove to play a vital role in my development as a person. Agents started to call and my journey to play professional basketball started. I signed with an agent and with a heavy heart I said goodbye to my high school team and I continued chasing my own dream of playing basketball professionally. I spent the next five years playing professional basketball internationally in places such as Argentina, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Kuwait, Israel, and South Korea. The experience traveling the world was one that only the gift of basketball could have provided me. The game of basketball had provided me with a career doing what I loved while allowing me to travel the world and not only learn, but participate in some amazing cultures. During this time I had the most amazing blessings that any man could ask for. I was blessed with the birth of my two amazingly awesome children – Elijah Jayce Allen and Kennedy Charlize Allen. Kennedy and Elijah are both miracles as I was told that my chance of having children was reduced and possibly unattainable due to the chemo and the radiation. Always wanting to have a family, this was something that had put a great deal of pain in my heart. Being there for my kids and providing them the opportunity to travel the world and watch me to what I love was blessing that once again basketball provided me.
In 2009 I ended my playing career and started coaching club basketball for Arizona Premier Basketball Academy, under the leadership of Russ Pennell (U of A, Grand Canyon University,Phoenix Mercury Head Coach, and Central Arkansas). This was not a paying job and I was in the middle of trying to figure out how I was going to support my family. I got a surprise interview with a data analytic company, Teradata Corporation, that specialized in selling data analyitics to larger corporations. This was a job that I was unqualified for, never being in technology or sales, but through an ex teammate and networking I landed an interview. I remembering going into the interview nervous, like it was my first game of the season. I had never been in sales and something this complex and high level, and it was a dream job for most. I met with the VP of the territory and we hit it off. He had told me that “me being an athlete was a major bonus as he knew I possessed skills such as hard work, loyalty, teamwork, ability to overcome adversity, and competition. I worked this job for 3 years, but the entire time I did not feel like it was my calling. I loved the job, I Loved the people I worked with, and I loved the company. I just knew that selling data analyitics was not my calling. One day I was watching Oprah, please don’t judge me, and Will Smith was on the show. I loved Will Smith so I didn’t not change the channel. He was sharing his story and was telling it in a very inspiring manner when he made a comment that changed the course of my journey. He stated that “If you are not making someone else’s life better, then you are wasting your time.” I heard this and It was like a jolt went through me. Who’s life was I impacting? I had a great job and was making great money, but was I using my skills and my story to make an impact? From that moment I vowed to chase down my passion, do what I love, and impact the world in the process. That night I laid down to go to bed, but I could not turn my mind off. I had spoken at events in the past, but I had never really fine tuned my message and I didn’t even think much of it. All of a sudden I had an idea and I just started to type away on my computer. The next morning, without any sleep, I was sitting in front of the computer to what looked like the start of an inspirational children’s book. I then started to plan for how I could go and share my story with children, youth, and adults alike and how I could use my story to hopefully inspire and motivate others. I landed a couple speaking gigs and the way I felt sharing my story was something I hadn’t felt since knocking down a big three point shot in a game. I also decided to dedicate more time to coaching and training in efforts of helping other inspiring athletes chase down their passion to play basketball and hopefully the game will impact them the way it did me.
This is where I sit today: I have been focusing my attention on creating a speaking business for myself, while sharing my children’s book whenever I can; I have started up my own basketball club and training company, Passion4ball; I am working on a project that hopefully will provide education and information to athletes all over the world; and I am hoping to create a movement of sharing our stories in efforts of motivating and inspiring.
ARTICLES IN NEWSPAPER:
1. Gregg Doyel CBS Sports Article:
2. TheSunDevils.com Article on 2003 Jimmy V Award:
3. Chicago Tribune Article:
4. AZ Central Article by Paola Bolvin:
5. DeKalb Chronicle Article on Training, Camps, Teaching:
6. DeKalb Chronicle Spotlight:
7. First Game Back: Courage Article
8. Camp in Illinois Article:
9. Japan Times: Article Written by Ed Odeven
10. Game Theory Group Article: