As a three-time Ivy League Champion as a Penn player, a two-time Ivy Player of the Year, an NBA player and the head coach of Penn men’s basketball from 2009 to 2015, Jerome Allen has accomplished a lot in his basketball life.
But now, Allen is facing a whole new kind of challenge. As an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, Allen now has to help his team slow down the Defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
But how did Allen go from the head coach of middling team in the Ivy League to a key part of the effort to contain the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving?Well, the path wasn’t especially smooth.
After a dominant playing career for the Quakers, Allen was awarded the head coaching position of his alma mater in 2009 following the firing of Glen Miller. Though by all accounts he was revered and respected by his players and fellow coaches alike, the positive atmosphere did not translate to wins, as Allen was unable to coach his team to an Ivy title in his six years at the helm. In fact, the team finished with a winning record only once in those six years. Unfortunately for Allen, the accumulated 65-104 record and last place finish in the conference in 2015 were not enough to warrant a seventh season as the head coach of Penn men’s basketball.
Instead, athletic director Grace Calhoun, in her first year in the position,forced Allen to, sending him in search of his next job.
Fortunately for Allen, his unsuccessful stint as Penn’s coach did not damage his reputation much in professional basketball circles. In July of 2015, Allen made the leap to the NBA, joining the staff of Brad Stevens, on whom he had made quite the impression.
“I was always incredibly impressed with [Allen],” Stevens said in 2015 to . “I have talked to players that have played for him that love him, and I knew about him as a fan watching him play, being a guy that has always appreciated smaller schools and what they can do. The bright lights were on him and he was a great player. He’s a great person, and we’re looking forward to having him around.”
For the Celtics, Allen’s tenure with the team has been very fruitful. Since being hired, the Celtics have quickly moved up the standings within the NBA. The year before Allen’s arrival saw Boston finish with a 40-42 record. In the two years since, the team has won 101 combined games, going 48-34 and then 53-29, and still appears to be on the upswing.
Together with Stevens and the rest of the coaching staff, Allen has helped coach the Celtics to new heights, as the team finished the 2016-2017 regular season with the best record in an Eastern Conference that included James’ Cavaliers. Going back to his time with the Miami Heat, Lebron James’ team has made the NBA Finals in six straight seasons.
In this year’s playoffs, though, nothing has come easy for the Celtics. Just days before the team’s first playoff game, All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas’ sister passed away in a fatal car accident.
After that, despite being heavily favored, the Celtics lost the first two games of their seven game series against the Chicago Bulls.
Remarkably, Thomas and the Celtics were able to turn it around, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals and their current matchup with the Cavs.
Once again, the series got off to a rocky start for the Celtics as the found themselves in another 0-2 hole. As if that was not enough adversity, Thomas also also injured his hip and was ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Despite all that, Allen and the Celtics did not give up. On Sunday, the Celtics pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent NBA history by beating the Cavaliers on the road without Thomas. Now, they only trail the Cavs by one game in the series.
The odds are still stacked against the Celtics for the rest of the series, but with the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft, the future is looking very bright in Boston.
For Allen, all of the Celtics’ success has been part of a remarkable turnaround in his career. A couple years ago, Allen’s career look doomed after being forced out of University City, but now he is near the top of the NBA.
And who knows? In the next year or two, Allen might even be able to claim that his team bested James and brought Boston its record 18th NBA Championship banner.