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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Allen’s fairytale story leads to heartbreaking ending

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Courtney Talak
Arizona senior guard Kadeem Allen (5) drives past Xavier guard J.P. Macura (55) during the second half of the Arizona vs Xavier Sweet 16 matchup on Thursday, March 23. Wildcats lost to Xavier Musketeers 73-71.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Who would’ve thought a junior college transfer guard from Wilmington, North Carolina would be the heart and soul of this Arizona team?

It’s clockwork to dissect a senior whenever they play the final game of the season and ask, “How difficult was it to digest the loss? What do you remember most about your time? What did coach say to you?”

Listen, we get it. We, as members of the media and even fans, want to know what the ride has been like. What was the journey like for Kadeem Allen? He’s a two-year starter, a soft-spoken southerner, who played in fewer games than Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and was still the veteran leader of Arizona.

The rest of the team had nothing but the upmost respect for Allen, and through thick and thin, he left his mark.

“I told him that he’s got big things coming and that he’s such a great leader, a winner,” said Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen. “I’m just proud of him.” 

Allen’s journey at the collegiate level wasn’t normal, though. He played at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas and won JUCO National Player of the Year in 2014 and redshirted his first season at Arizona because he didn’t fit in the lineup.

Imagine going from top dog at a competitive level and then just being a body on the end of the bench wearing an Arizona shirt—an outcast, if you will—because there were too many bodies. He could’ve held up his two fingers and hopped back on the next flight to North Carolina and Arizona would’ve been in his rear view, but he didn’t.

Instead, he dealt with the struggle of not playing, came back the next season and started, but even last season, he turned the ball over seven times in Arizona’s loss to Wichita State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Allen returned as the lone senior but was looked over by the headline names like Allonzo Trier and the freshmen. From day one, we all asked about Markkanen’s impact or what to expect out of Trier, but Arizona head coach Sean Miller had a tendency to bring the conversation back to Allen.

“There’s never been anybody—and we’ve had some great players, great kids at Xavier and Arizona—that means more to me, that embodies the good in college basketball, than Kadeem Allen,” Miller said. 

For how many times Miller called Allen the “rock” or “heartbeat” of this team, you would think he was talking about his son. And for a short stint in Tucson, the way his teammates look and talk about him, Allen might as well be the greatest guard to ever come through Arizona.

“It speaks for itself,” Allen said. “My coaches, teammates, everyone in the program­—they give me the confidence that I have toward the end of the season. I took it and I was just playing basketball. I appreciate everything he’s done for me and the coaching staff and my teammates. I love these guys.”

From North Carolina, to top JUCO player, to an afterthought, to a turnover machine, to leading the Arizona Wildcats by experience and defensive grit, Allen’s journey at the UA was awe-inspiring. He didn’t have the best story or even the fairytale ending to go with it, but he looks at this season as a glass half full.

“I’m proud of my team,” Allen said. “When you win 32 games and only five losses, it says a lot about the program and the coaching staff. I’m just proud of these guys.”

Up next, Allen will look to play for some money, whether it’s a spot in the NBA or overseas professionally. Regardless, Allen will be remembered as one of the most underrated Arizona players that not only Miller has ever coached, but that came through McKale Center.


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter. 



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