Allen finally sheds walk-on label
Calipari awards point guard with scholarship for '07-'08
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Though he had turned down scholarships elsewhere to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing basketball at the University of Memphis, the "walk-on" prefix never seemed to fit point guard Andre Allen.
Tigers coach John Calipari has awarded Allen one of Memphis' two open scholarships for the 2007-08 season, marking another significant career moment for a player who walked on as an academic non-qualifier and eventually became one of the most valuable members of two Tiger runs to the Elite Eight.
"There's no sense of pride, really. I know that I put in hard work," Allen said. "I always was a part of the family, a part of the team. I was treated like a scholarship player. So it's nothing different; I just get my books free.
"(Calipari) told me when I first came, if I wanted a scholarship, I had to show him what I could do. And I proved to him that I deserved a scholarship."
Few Memphians would disagree, especially after watching Allen's career path, going all the way back to when one publication ranked him the top eighth grader in the country. But even as he became a city legend at Booker T. Washington high school, Allen never grew past 5-foot-8, and academic problems compromised his opportunities to play college basketball.
After sitting out his first year at Memphis due to NCAA rules for non-qualifiers, Allen's relentless motor powered the Tigers to the brink of the Final Four in 2006. And though he didn't start once last season, Allen was Calipari's most trusted point guard, almost always on the floor in late-game situations.
Calipari said the decision to give Allen a scholarship was based as much on taking care of business away from basketball as it was about his value to the team. Allen's academics, for instance, are finally in order, and he'll almost certainly graduate this year, thus earning back the year of eligibility in 2008-09 that he had to sit out as a non-qualifier.
"Every time we were ready to scholarship him, he'd do something (wrong)," Calipari said. "And I'll be honest, if anything happened this summer, he wouldn't have been scholarship this year either. But it was a reward for him out there. This year, and hopefully the next two years, he'll stay on."
Though technically a walk-on, Allen's tuition had previously been paid for by Streets Ministries, which has awarded college scholarships dozens of inner-city Memphis youth.
Streets Ministries executive director Ken Bennett said earning a basketball scholarship was perhaps more important than Allen let on.
"Nobody thought of Andre as a walk-on, but he did," Bennett said. "I think it makes his mom proud, it makes the community proud and it certainly makes me proud. You step in as a walk-on, and you can have a big chip on your shoulder or you can take care of business. He took care of business."
Despite now occupying a scholarship, Allen can't afford to be satisfied. This season, Allen will not only have to share minutes with rapidly improving sophomore Willie Kemp but also freshman phenom Derrick Rose.
"We put it all in coach's hands," Allen said. "He knew what he was doing when he brought everybody in, so he knows there's enough playing time for everyone. This is just Memphis ball, period. Anybody who comes down here has to be competitive. Playing against me, they've gotta be a competitor."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365