Penn senior guard Jerome Allen is perhaps the most dominant player to wear a Penn uniform in the last decade. You could think of all the times he has taken over a game with 8,700 fans cheering his every move and say that the Palestra is, and always will be, Jerome Allen's house. But perhaps this image is more telling: A hard afternoon's practice has just concluded, but the guys are having way too much fun to leave the Palestra floor. No one is enjoying himself more than Allen. The 22-year-old is a little kid, horsing around with his teammates while engaged in some goofy pickup game. They jaw back and forth. A group led by Ira Bowman has heard enough, and the chase is on. Allen, a huge grin on his face, eludes his pursuers for a while, but eventually they catch him and playfully wrestle him down. Allen appears to be having the time of his life. This is a place in which he feels totally comfortable and secure; a place where he can put the world's daily grind aside and just relax and enjoy life; a place where he is with people he loves, people who love him. You think about all that and realize the Palestra is more than just Jerome Allen's house. It is his home. · If it is his home, then his teammates and coaches are his family. Eleven teammates and four coaches would seem to be a rather large family, but actually it's hardly any bigger than the one in which Allen grew up. The crowded, undersized house in the mean streets of Germantown was home to all sorts of family members. Uncles, aunts and cousins. His mother and a sister. But no father to speak of. Early in Allen's childhood, his dad left the family. "With his father not around, they really had to bond when he was growing up," says Matt Maloney, Allen's fellow senior guard. "They really work hard for each other. That's one of the things that motivates both of them. You really can't ask for a better relationship." One of the things that impressed Penn coach Fran Dunphy most about Allen back when he was recruiting him was his interaction with his mom. "You could see the respect he had for her," Dunphy says. "You would suspect that it would carry over into how he lived his life and how he would be in a team structure." For her part, Nuble cared enough to put in long, sweat-filled hours doing housekeeping and working in various hotels in order to support her son. All along she had one goal in mind for both Allen and his sister -- she wanted them to obtain college degrees. "It would do me real proud to see both of them get their degrees," she says. "I never had that chance. None of my sisters and brothers ever had a chance." While Allen prepares to graduate in May, his sister is in her freshman year at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. · Before Allen got to college there was the matter of high school. He enrolled at the prestigious Episcopal Academy in Marion as a freshman and set about making a name for himself as a basketball player and as a student. His high school basketball coach, Dan Dougherty, says Allen may have had a hard time making the transition from his old neighborhood to the prep-school atmosphere of Episcopal. But whatever problems he had didn't faze him for long. Dougherty taught math to Allen in both his freshman and senior years, so he got a first-hand view of the progress Allen made through his high school career in the classroom. What impressed Dougherty most was the dedication. Allen, he says never had to go to study hall. He was always off in the library studying on his own or going to his teachers for extra help. "He was truly an overachiever," Dougherty says. Allen surpassed expectations in the athletic realm as well. His most surprising accomplishments came not on the court, where he did excel, but on the football field. He only joined the team because, according to school rules, he had to spend his autumns doing something athletically. But by senior year his ability to run the option and throw the ball had earned him the starting job at quarterback. Any university that dreamed of making him a two-sport star a la Charlie Ward, however, had its hopes dashed when Allen announced he was hanging up the pads for good after his final high school game. Basketball had been Allen's true love ever since he was three years old, when he took up the game as a safe and relaxing way to get out of the house, and he wanted to concentrate all his time and energy on it. "If you could open up his chest," his mother says, "you wouldn't see a heart. You would see a basketball." Before either he or Allen came to Penn, Quakers center Tim Krug knew all too well what kind of competitor Allen was. When Allen was a high school junior, he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Jeb Shanahan to boost Episcopal to a last-second victory over Penn Charter, Krug's alma mater. Four months later, Allen broke Penn Charter's hearts with a little help from Shanahan once again, this time on the hardwood. With sophomore Krug on the opposing side, Allen took a full-court pass from Shanahan and banked in a shot in the final seconds to give Episcopal the win. When it was all over, Allen and current Quakers teammate Eric Moore had led Episcopal's basketball team to a combined record of 53-3 in their final two seasons. Dougherty will never forget what they meant to his program. "In 37 years as a coach, I've had a lot of great players," he said. "I've never seen two kids push themselves to their limit more than those two did. I'm very proud of them as a coach." · Looking back on the four years he has spent with Allen, Dunphy also has much to be proud about. What pleases Dunphy as much as Allen's accomplishments on the court is his growth as a person. He has made immense strides from the time he was a shy, insecure freshman who appeared somewhat overwhelmed by his surroundings. "I see somebody who knows he is a good person, somebody who is not afraid to speak up and not afraid to challenge his teammates," Dunphy says. "He's also quite comfortable challenging himself, and that's the true sign of somebody who wants to be the best he can." Most who know Allen say he is normally rather reserved and quiet. When the time is right, though, he is eager to step up and take charge. Often times in practice, Allen will make suggestions as to how to run a particular set on offense or on defense. Dunphy is more than willing to listen. "At this point," Dunphy says, "I would be foolish not to trust in his judgment." "He's a very good leader," Maloney says. "He's just a terrific guy. He'll help you out any way he can. He always keeps in touch with everyone and looks out for his teammates." Senior forward Shawn Trice, Allen's roommate for three years, knows that as well as anybody. Trice was taken in by the Allen household and treated as one of their own upon his arrival in West Philadelphia. Allen showed him around town and provided a second home for the Detroit native stuck 1,500 miles away from his real home. Trice was also invited to stay with Allen and his family for the summer after their freshman year and last year so the two of them could work on their basketball and conditioning together at Penn. "It just shows what kind of people he and his family are," Trice says. "He's the most caring person, the most sharing person I've known." · Allen is every bit as sharing on the court as he is off it. He led the Ivies in assists this year with 5.8 per game, demonstrating an unselfishness that has NBA scouts salivating as much as his ability to slash right through defenses. Senior forward Scott Kegler says when he gets open shots, nine times out of 10 it's because Allen is getting him those shots. "He doesn't get caught up with scoring points and doing well statistically," Kegler says. "He really dictates how the game is going to go. A great player makes everyone around him better, and that's what he does." He does it because winning means everything to him. Sometimes that does mean he has to forget about his teammates and shoulder the load himself. That's why he took -- and hit -- most of the shots down the stretch a year ago at Temple when the rest of the Quakers seemed awed just by being on the same court as Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie. That's why, with the entire team struggling to find shots in the final minutes at Michigan, Allen chose not to follow the play Dunphy called -- which had Allen passing the ball back out to Maloney or Kegler for a three-point shot -- after he penetrated past Jimmy King. Allen wanted the team to win or lose the game with him. He put up what Krug called "a 10-foot, one-handed, hook-shot leaner" that swished through the net to give the Quakers one of their biggest wins in a long time. That's also why former USC coach George Raveling selected Allen to be part of an elite corps of 12 of the best collegiate players in the country representing the United States in the Goodwill Games this past summer. Players with far more notoriety were passed over, because Raveling knew Allen could do one thing -- win. Playing time was less than what Allen was used to, but he made the most of every opportunity. "He's very culturable," Raveling says. "He hung in there against difficult odds. We all got more and more confidence in him as time went on." Raveling says Allen's unselfish play at the point against Russia in the bronze medal game was one of the prime reasons the U.S. was able to come out on top. The next stop for Allen, according to most in the know, is the NBA. Last season, Raveling called Allen a potential lottery pick. Dunphy was unsure where Allen would be picked, but he did know what the team that drafts Allen will be getting. "To me he'll have a 10- or 12-year career," Dunphy says. "He may not be the leading scorer on his team, but he'll help his team win. That's the biggest value he'll have to an organization -- the ability to help it win." Moore figures Allen will quickly earn enough money to retire on. "But he's not just about that," Moore says. "He really wants to play and do well. He's a good individual and that's hard to find in the NBA these days." · But money does mean a little something, of course. Money will be needed for Allen to buy his mom her dream house and allow her to take it easy after all the work she has done for him. "That makes me feel proud," Janet Nuble says. "I'd have to keep working, though. I wouldn't just live off my child. He's worked hard for that. He's earned it and it's his." Allen's relationship with his mother illustrates perhaps the most significant aspect of his personality. More than anything, more than money or winning championships, more even than the game of basketball itself, Allen values human relationships. It is why, when he graduates, he will miss his teammates more than anything else -- passing the time with them on the bus ride up to Dartmouth with a blizzard raging outside; hanging out with Trice and Maloney during the summers; horsing around with Bowman after a long afternoon's practice. The affection could not be more mutual. "He's definitely one of the people I've met throughout my life that I'm really glad to have been a part of his life," Maloney says. "It's going to benefit me in pretty much every part of my life just knowing him, knowing where he's come from, what he's been through and how successful he's been." "I've cherished every moment that kid has brought to our basketball program," Dunphy says. "He will always have a special little space in my heart." Here at Penn, he will always have a home.Comments powered by Disqus
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