Lavoy Allen taking Temple to new heights

Temple's Lavoy Allen, shooting over Duquesne's Bill Clark, is one of the nation's top rebounders and a superb passer. "He might be the smartest player I've ever coached," said Owls coach Fran Dunphy.
Temple's Lavoy Allen, shooting over Duquesne's Bill Clark, is one of the nation's top rebounders and a superb passer. "He might be the smartest player I've ever coached," said Owls coach Fran Dunphy.
Posted: March 09, 2010

Temple had just taken out La Salle. Lavoy Allen's parents were still in their seats at the Tom Gola Arena, debating how many rebounds he'd just grabbed. His father wasn't sure Lavoy even had 10.

The box score credited Allen with 21 - the most by a Temple player in 37 years. The 6-foot-9 junior from Morrisville even had nine offensive rebounds. A perfect indicator of how efficiently Allen operates - his own parents can get fooled.

"That motor that a guy like [former North Carolina star] Tyler Hansbrough has, everybody wishes that Lavoy had that. Well, that's not his way," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "He's going hard, it just doesn't look like it."

"I guess people want me to scream and yell and stuff," Allen said.

Watching Allen play basketball can be like a mini-clinic. If he is stationed in the high post, his first look is to a teammate in the low post. If he's in the low post and even senses a double-team, he's looking for the open man. It might be a quick inside pass to a cutting teammate or a crosscourt pass to a shooter. Or Allen will set a screen up high and slide into prime rebounding position down low.

"He might be the smartest player I've ever coached in terms of positioning and understanding the game - just his knowledge," Dunphy said.

Through yesterday, Allen was 12th in Division I basketball in rebounding (10.8 a game). Here's where he separates himself from his peers: Of the nation's top 15 rebounders, only Allen and two others averaged at least two assists a game, and of those top 15, only Allen had more assists than turnovers.

"I can't name another interior kid who passes the ball like him," said his high school coach, Pennsbury's Frank Sciolla.

In the first half of the La Salle game, Allen had an open look from the top of the key and decided to take the shot. Dunphy's first thought, he admitted later, was not a positive one. Never mind that Allen's shot went in - that had little bearing on Dunphy's analysis. Owls guard Juan Fernandez was just as open, an easy pass away, and he was scorching hot at that point. He'd already made three three-pointers. Ninety-nine of 100 times, Allen would have fed him the ball.

When Allen shot, his coach kept his mouth shut, though. Dunphy realized Allen was actually following directions.

"He's the last guy who wants to score, but we need him to score, and look to score," said Owls assistant coach Shawn Trice. "To the point where if he's forcing a couple of shots - in order for him to change his mentality of pass and defer to everybody, he's got to take some bad shots."

As Temple moves into the postseason, Dunphy isn't looking for Allen to overhaul his game - a game born from humble roots.

"When I first started playing basketball, I wasn't really good at it. I always felt, when I was at the playground, I'd pass it to the better players rather than take it myself," Allen said of his passing instincts. "I think that's where it came from. That was the only good thing I could really do as a player."

Allen got a late start in the game, not playing much organized basketball before eighth grade. Other big men were considered ahead of him at his own school. Even when he established himself as a Division I prospect, Pennsbury had a big-time scorer coming up the ranks in Dalton Pepper, now a freshman at West Virginia. Sciolla said the late start probably helped Allen. He was the proverbial player who didn't have bad habits, "you could teach him from the ground up," Sciolla said.

That diagonal pass Temple fans see Allen make, he picked that up quickly years ago, Sciolla said, bringing the ball to his chin, "chinning it" in hoop clinic parlance, then look to the opposite elbow, the corner of the foul line. "He would do that almost robotically," Sciolla said. "He has such tremendous hands, and took pride in being a good passer."

Maybe Allen began as a lesser player, but that didn't hold.

"After ninth grade, he made a decision - he wanted to be great," Sciolla said, talking about how Allen put in a lot of extra work.

In the stands, Lavoy's father was matter-of-fact about his son's work ethic.

"He knows that I worked so hard," Dave Allen said. "I always instilled that in him."

Dave Allen has been a truck driver for 23 years. The first five years, he said, he was a long-haul armored car driver, working for a private company, but driving currency, gold, and silver around the country for the Federal Reserve. He drove limestone for a while.

Interestingly, Lavoy himself said that this is the first season at Temple where he's tried to put in more extra work away from practices, like he used to do in high school. Between practice, classes, and travel, he didn't put in as much extra time his first two years, he said.

"We discussed that at length earlier this year," said Sciolla, the Pennsbury coach. "I said, 'You worked so hard to put yourself on the map. You got to college, you laid off a little bit.' We talked about how the stuff that really separates you is the time you put in."

"I think it was me becoming more mature as a player," Allen said. "My time here is getting limited. I wasn't thinking about that when I was younger."

That doesn't mean you'll see a more emotional Allen. What ticks him off in practice?

"That's a tough question - I'm not sure," said Trice, the Owls' assistant. "We haven't seen much tick him off."

Growing up?

"I don't think I've ever seen him get mad," said his mother, Paula Allen. "I don't think he ever gets mad about anything. I really don't."

Life hasn't just been free and easy. Allen's known some tough days. He has had to bury an older brother. Nothing was given to him. He doesn't want to hear about suburban guys being soft.

And he will get mad, Allen said.

"Showing you're mad and being mad - two different things," he said, explaining that if a foul call ticks him, "I kind of think about it, even thought I don't show. In my mind, I'm thinking, 'Stupid foul. Shouldn't have been called.' "

Fouls are a natural ticking-off point, since the Owls, with or without Allen on the court, are two different teams. He's improved this season at staying on the court, and reached his preseason goal of averaging a double-double, scoring 11.7 points a game to go with his double-digit rebounds.

In addition, "he's probably our best defensive player in terms of understanding angles and helping and recovering," Trice said.

The assistant coach said they know Allen gets fired up playing other top power forwards. He said that's true, especially NBA prospects. It's strange that the subject of his motor would even come up given the rebounds he racks up. The notion mainly comes from Allen's willingness to make the smart play rather than trying to take over offensively.

"He's got the footwork," Trice said. "You take him through drills - if you're going one-on-one, two-on-two, he's probably our best one-on-one player. It's just getting confidence in his footwork and his ability to score down there. I think he believes that he's not as athletic as everyone else sees."

The bottom line: He's been a game-changer for Temple, Dunphy's most significant recruit since the coach arrived on North Broad Street.

The smartest player Dunphy has ever coached? What would some of Dunphy's old Penn Quakers make of that?

"Let's put it this way - he's as smart as any basketball player I've coached," Dunphy said. "His knowledge of the nuances of the game is extraordinary."

Even when he takes a shot Dunphy didn't necessarily want him taking.

As February turned into March, Temple's coach said, "We're going to need that."


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen

at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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