The day before each game he plays for Richmond, Terry Allen fields a phone call whose conversation is freighted with fielded questions. How many shots has he been putting up? What’s his plan of attack for the Spiders’ next opponent? After the game, Allen will speak to the same caller, who will critique his performance and add pointers for how he can be more effective next tilt.
“But she’s always cheering me on,” Allen says of his mother. “She’s a big fan.”
Moms do know best, and Stefanie Tyson knows a little something about the game of basketball. She played at San Diego State, and served as a chief instructor in her son’s development. At Manvel High, just outside his home of Houston, Texas, Allen put the learning to good use. He finished as the school’s all-time leader in points (1,988), rebounds (1,050) and steals (215), showcasing an ineffable vein of versatility at 6–8 that caught the eye of Chris Mooney, the head coach at Richmond.
“Versatility is something I’m always looking for,” says Mooney. “Playing a bunch of positions illustrates that, but watching (Allen) handle the ball, it quickly became apparent that he was very comfortable on the perimeter. He’s a really great dribbler for a guy his size. That’s probably what stood out the most, his ability to move so well, even at his size.”
Allen was well aware of the Spiders — like so many, he’d been enthralled by their NCAA tournament run in 2011, when they knocked off Vanderbilt and Morehead State on the way to the Sweet 16. That was the crowning achievement of three seasons of surge, during which Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper and co. led the Spiders to 75 wins (including 29 in ‘10–11) and earned successive NCAA tournament trips and end-of-year top-25 rankings.
Allen settled upon two reasons why he wanted to go there. He hoped to recreate the success of that NCAA tournament run; and in Mooney’s motion sets, he saw an offense in which he could thrive. A mix of power and precision at the rim, range that extends to three, and a savvy mid-range game to balance it out. Allen played 1–5 at Manvel High. Here he could showcase that same kind of skill.
Once on campus, it took time to adjust: there was the weathering of the culture shock from Texas to Virginia. Then, the intricacies of the nuanced Spider system. Mastering the incessant movement on offense, and the frequent switching on D.
It wasn’t until midway through his sophomore year that Allen felt he really began to feel comfortable. But all those days of learning began to pay off. When he played, he found he could command, rather than react. Soon came the showcasing of his natural feel. Defenses have been paying for it since.
Last season, Allen led the Spiders with 6.7 rebounds, and his 13.0 points were second behind departed senior Kendall Anthony. He chipped in over a steal per game, along with 47 assists in 35 games.
“I actually think I saw it early,” Mooney says of Allen’s ability to pick up the system. “Terry has really good basketball instincts, and he was able to contribute early. There’s always a transition to the speed and strength at the DI level, but Terry had some really good games his first year.”
For ‘15–16, Allen is one of four starters returning from a team that won 21 games and just missed out on the NCAA tournament. The Spiders reeled off a run to the NIT quarters, taking down St. Francis and Arizona State.
Allen feels the excitement on campus, the sense that something special could be brewing this season. Though he is quiet by nature, he talks with the Spiders newcomers. He remembers the growing pains of his own start to college, so he asks them: How are they adapting? Are they having any trouble picking up the system? As summer slips toward fall, the new season looming ever larger on the horizon, he wants to get this team humming.
“We’d like him to talk a bit more and he’s done that,” says Mooney. “And he’s outsanding in terms of his leading by example. He’s such a hard worker. In the gym, during practice or even a shootaround, he’s working. Everyone can see that. He’s one of the best players in our league, but he doesn’t let any rep go without putting in full effort.”
Asked about the team’s greatest strengths for this season, Mooney pauses for a moment, to measure his response. Then, he lists two traits: experience and competitiveness. The Spiders have a wealth of talent and top-tier skill, but come March, those first two characteristics will act as a kind of turbo boost.
One of the most telling qualities of this group? Terry Allen embodies the best of everything listed above.