Jerome Allen brings a world of experience to his job coaching Penn basketball

Penn coach Jerome Allen with Zack Rosen. Allen played - and learned - all over Europe.
Penn coach Jerome Allen with Zack Rosen. Allen played - and learned - all over Europe. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 10, 2012

Penn basketball coach Jerome Allen was one of his school's all-time greats as a Quakers guard, and he played for some fine and renowned coaches at Episcopal Academy and at Penn. He's also the first Big Five head coach in more than four decades to have played in the NBA, since Tom Gola coached La Salle from 1968 through 1970.

But the lines on Allen's resumé that often get the least attention probably should be in the boldest print. Allen talks about how he was heavily influenced by Dan Dougherty at Episcopal and Fran Dunphy at Penn, and by Larry Brown while playing most of a season with the Indiana Pacers. The bulk of Allen's playing days, however, were spent in Europe, more than a decade - and it was that decade when international basketball pretty much caught up to the American game.

After being on those front lines, Allen is one of the few collegiate head coaches in the country who played for such a long period in Europe. When you watch Penn's offense - including during Friday night's big Palestra battle with Ivy front-runner Harvard - you'll see Euro influences.

How much?

"A lot," Allen said Thursday in his office at Penn. "A lot. I think playing in Europe for most of my professional career, it's changed my mind-set on timing, spacing, overall understanding. It challenged my thought process at first, from playing in the States, in high school and college and the first part of my professional career, where things are attacked a certain way.:

He chose the word attacked purposely.

"Here, the game is athletic, physical, like the stronger team will survive," Allen said. "But in Europe, because the lane is a lot wider, there's more ball movement, more emphasis on the fundamentals, footwork, passing, shooting. The game is played a lot less underneath the rim, for lack of a better way of saying it."

Allen said the top coaches he played for on both continents shared the same traits: a devotion to defense and attention to detail.

"I should be thrown in jail because I'm the biggest thief there is," Allen said, saying he had taken much of his offense from former Penn assistant Fran O'Hanlon's offense at Lafayette, where O'Hanlon is the head coach, and fusing it with NBA and European principles he has learned.

His last Italian league coach, Andrea Trinchieri, offered a Ph.D. of sorts.

"He would always try to get us to play a pick-and-roll on the move," Allen said. "What I mean by that - let's take a simple offense like a flex. It looked like a flex offense, which has been run in the United States for a gazillion years. We would show that action, just to get back to a pick- and-roll. Once you get the big guys on the move, they worry about defending the back screen and not really getting to the next action, which was actually the pick-and-roll."

If that is Greek to you, you're getting the idea. Allen spent a season there, too. First, he played two seasons in the NBA, for Minnesota, Indiana and Denver. He was Kevin Garnett's teammate and also appreciated his time with Larry Brown.

"There was no discrepancy in his discipline, from the 12th man to Reggie Miller," Allen said.

From there, he played in Limoges, France, in Italy (eventually for three different clubs) and also in Greece, Spain, and Turkey. He played a season in Istanbul and two in Rome. Those leagues along the Mediterranean offer the best competition and the biggest paychecks. Allen also played three seasons with clubs that competed in the continentwide Euroleague, easily the second-best league in the world.

He played for coaches who liked two-a-day practices even though games were only once a week. He saw passion turn into craziness and found out why they put a roof over the bench in one arena in Turkey.

"My first Euroleague game. . . . A call was made," Allen said. "I stood up on the bench-"

And, pop, found he had a welt on his neck.

"A screw and bolt hit me."

He controlled himself that time. Not so much the time a man leaned back and spit in his face after Allen's visiting team had won. Guys from Germantown aren't letting that go. Allen went after the guy and suddenly found himself in the middle of brawling Turks.

"Only two people - one of my teammates, a young guy, and our trainer - came into the stands," Allen said. "The rest ran into the locker room."

But those rare incidents aside, Allen said, "being in Europe changed my life completely, from basketball to me just being a human being. We could talk about fashion, about social medicine, about life. Here, we think we're the center of the universe. I've seen some good things. I've seen bad things. But me as a person, just the cultural capital of being there almost 11 years, I'm a different person than if I'd been fortunate to have a 14-year career in this country."

His last season in Italy, Allen finished up as the player-coach. He had thought he wanted to coach in Italy full time and had almost got a head coaching job the previous season, going through three interviews.

"I had fun, and the experience was great," Allen said of being a player-coach, which involved more coaching than playing. "But I think it helped me realize I really wanted to be home."

As fate would have it, his basketball home is the Palestra, where he can channel Dunphy or Brown, but also Trinchieri or Dusko Ivanovic from Montenegro, a fusion that has Allen explaining to his players that every move with the ball or away from it has a purpose, and there's always a counter to the counter, a way to mask their true intentions.

A fun way for his Quakers to play?

"It's the right way," Allen said.


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus'' columns at www.philly.com/offcampus.

 

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