December 5, 2016, published in the Orange County Register
Kyle Allman sprinted toward the basket on a fastbreak. He didn’t care that Washington’s Markelle Fultz, considered by some to be the No. 1 2017 NBA Draft pick, trailed closely during a non-conference game in November.
Receiving the pass from point guard Lionheart Leslie, Allman leapt toward the sky, hammering the ball over Fultz for the dunk. Though Allman was blocked, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Brooklyn, N.Y., native landed undeterred, as his motto has always been: attack, attack, attack.
“He’s just a dog, man,” said guard Jamal Smith, shaking his head, praising Allman’s competitiveness. “He always wants to be that Alpha.”
But Allman, who worked to mold all aspects of his game in the offseason, is more than athletic. With a silky jab step and crossover, a budding, true mid-range jump-shot — where Allman elevates and releases the ball at its highest peak — he is also the team’s lockdown defender. Against Nebraska-Omaha last week he rose up and tossed out an opponent’s attempt like a bad dream.
Allman, who averaged 5.1 points a game as a rookie last season, is beginning to break out of his shell. He’s averaging 10.1 points 1.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for the Titans (3-5 through Saturday) as a reliable option next to senior Tre’ Coggins.
Something clicked against Portland State in November. Allman dropped a career-high 27 points, including six points in double overtime. Nailing four free throws as time expired, he helped the Titans win, 106-100.
“I think what’s happened to him as a sophomore, things have kind of slowed down for him,” Titan coach Dedrique Taylor said. “I think that’s what we’re seeing now: his maturity in finding his own path, his own rhythm.”
His first few trips down the court, Allman often drives to his left, fooling the defense into thinking that’s his natural hand. Kyle Allman Sr. taught his son that when he was 9, not allowing him to use his right hand.
Allman had to do something to stand out, because back then, he was a lanky, scrawny boy who wore goggles with a thick strap behind his head. Still, the other kids didn’t bully him. “He had an air of confidence about him,” said his long-time trainer, Eric Harris.
Allman dribbled for hours with his father every night. He challenged himself playing streetball on outside courts, like the time Allman, 14, faced a 16-year-old who elbowed and pushed him to the ground. Allman finally pushed back and scored, learning to not back down.
“Playing pick-up in New York gives you that medal of honor,” Allman Sr. said. “It made him tough.”
Then, Allman was all defense, using his length, smarts and footspeed to swarm opponents. “I loved the thrill of it,” Allman said. “And my pride, I can’t allow someone to just score on me continuously.”
He liked to talk, too, but his skills didn’t yet match his swagger. Training with Harris as early as seventh grade, Allman ran stairs and jumped rope and completed defensive slides with weights between eight to 12 pounds.
“Most kids would probably get tired and want to quit,” Harris said, “but he just always pushed through.”
Allman wasn’t a focal player his first two years of high school. But junior year? He dunked on people. He zoomed to the basket. “I don’t know what happened to the kid,” said Jerry Farrior, Allman’s AAU coach at Harlem United. “I don’t know if he got struck by lightning or what.”
But as Farrior’s phone rang at 11 at night, when Allman asked him to open the gym, or when Farrior had to tell Allman to step aside in drills after going five times too many, Farrior knew what had happened.
“Kyle just outworked everyone,” Farrior said. “A lot of kids will talk about it, but very few will be about it. He just wanted to be better than everybody else.”
Yet Allman flew under the radar, receiving just one Division I scholarship offer, from Cal State Fullerton, during March of his senior year. He got a tattoo on his left arm of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“If I quit when things get hard, I’m a soft guy,” Allman said, describing why the quote resonated with him, “but if I fight through it and bounce back, I’m a tougher man.”
One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. Allman counts before he makes a move. Each pause is a melody, a delicate rhythm between thinking and reacting.
Allman didn’t have that kind of control when he first came to campus, as he was accustomed to one speed: all-out. And as defenders sagged off him along the perimeter, the rookie realized he had to develop a more consistent jump-shot.
Once again, Allman returned to the lab. He spent hours shooting until his arms grew heavy. He showed promise, like scoring 16 points against UC Irvine or laying down a thunderous dunk off a backdoor pass against Long Beach State.
But this season, Allman is revealing more than glimpses, having doubled his scoring average. He’s impacting the game on both ends, like scoring 13 points versus Alabama State, collecting five assists against Washington and tallying two steals and two blocks against Nebraska-Omaha.
“When you look at him on the floor, he looks like that East Coast, New-York type of hooper, that’s all of a sudden got a little bit of West-Coast feel and flavor in terms of finesse,” Taylor said, “being able to take what he does from New York in terms of grinding and getting to the rim, but now he’s a bit more finessed and able to catch and shoot his jump-shot.”
“I think we are seeing the two coasts emerging through his game, so to speak,” Taylor said.
Allman, majoring in communications advertising, isn’t satisfied. Sometimes he drops his head when he makes a mistake, struggling to move to the next play. “He’s a perfectionist,” Harris said. “He can be his toughest critic.”
On Saturday, the Titans rallied from a 20-point deficit against Pacific. Allman, donning a face mask to protect a broken nose he suffered a few games prior, called for the ball with four minutes remaining.
He muscled his way into the paint, kissing the ball off the glass for two. A few possessions later, he slashed to the basket and was fouled, sinking two free throws. Allman continued to push, eluding his defender with a behind the back move for a layup, giving his team a one-point lead. The Titans eventually won, 78-77.
“He has so much untapped potential. He just has to keep working,” Farrior said. “I don’t think he’s going to stop. I don’t think he knows how to stop.”