From Wilmington, North Carolina to Hutchinson, Kansas and finally to Tucson, Arizona—senior point gaurd Kadeem Allen’s journey is different than a lot of other college basketball players.
He’s not the only one who was scarcely recruited, finding himself at a junior college. After only receiving scholarship offers from schools close to home, Allen had to leave his beloved family in North Carolina and head to Kansas to begin his college career.
Family is everything to the 24-year-old who had a daughter, Genesis, in September and had nearly 20 family members in town for senior day during Arizona’s home finale against UCLA.
Arriving in Hutchinson, a town of just 42,000, wasn’t easy for Allen, who had never been away from family. He was constantly calling his mother, asking to come home.
“The first month, I was just ready to go home,” Allen told Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star. “I wanted to go home multiple times. But my mom and my girlfriend told me to stick it out and try to be the best I could be.”
As Allen has with every hand he’s been dealt in his career, he made the most of it. He would eventually become the NJCAA Div. I Player of the Year in 2014, but like every stop in his career, he had to overcome adversity first.
Hutchinson had an injured point guard when Allen arrived, and he had to play on the ball his freshman season. It was the exact same situation for Allen upon his first year playing for Arizona in 2015-2016.
Just like he would at Arizona, Allen thrived off the ball and averaged nearly 26 points per game; he was on his way to Tucson. And the next roadblock was right there waiting.
“I asked him to red shirt, and he did it,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “Everything was difficult—the practice structure, the academic structure, not playing with us in the games but having to practice, maybe lifting weights for the first time ever. And to think about where he was and where he is today, he’s two classes from graduating.”
Allen watched from the sidelines as T.J. McConnell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson fell in the Elite Eight to the Wisconsin Badgers.
It was arguably Miller’s best team and his best, and favorite, point guard. Allen spent 2016 trying to live up to the standards the 2015 team set, but he realized he had to become his own player.
“You think of a guy like a T.J. McConnell, who became a great leader for us a couple years ago, Kadeem is his equal,” Miller said. “He does it in a different way, but he does it by example.”
Unlike at Hutchinson, Allen stayed on the ball this season and has been starting at point guard for good since backup point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright went down with an ankle injury.
He’s made the most of it.
He averaged nearly 10 points per game and had a team-high 50 steals on his way to being named to the All-Defense Pac-12 team. Of all the things Miller likes to mention when he talks about Allen, whether it be defense or making big plays late in games, he almost always mentions the type of leader Allen is.
“If you would have told our team a few years ago that Kadeem Allen would be the great leader he is today, they would have all bet me, because he was just trying to make it when he first got to Arizona,” Miller said. “He’s the only senior on our team. He’s our team’s heart and soul. Everybody on our team respects him a great deal because he only cares about winning. He really does. I’ve never, ever had a conversation nor has anybody about how many shots he gets or points. And he’s in this for the right reasons.”
This year is Allen’s chance to etch his name in Arizona lore. For as beloved as McConnell is in Tucson, Allen can carve out quite the legacy if he can lead Arizona to the Final Four this season.
“Kadeem is one of my favorite players I’ve ever been around, as a teammate, when I played, assistant coach, head coach,” Miller said. “He has overcome tremendous odds. He’s what college sports is all about. He’s taken advantage of the path that has been given to him.”
Take advantage he has. Allen and the Wildcats are just two steps away from Glendale, and it would be an epic finish to Allen’s ride.
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