John Allen, who starred at Shorewood High, and No. 1 seed Western (30-2) return to action on Thursday to face No. 1 seed Florida Southern (27-5) from Lakeland, Fla., in the D-II quarterfinals at Louisville's Freedom Hall.
BELLINGHAM — When Western Washington needed scoring, John Allen dropped 43 points on Simon Fraser last season and 38 points against Western Oregon back in January.
The 6-foot-1 senior guard has given the Vikings almost everything as they attempt to defend their Division II men’s basketball national title.
He’s been a scorer and playmaker who averaged a team-leading 17.3 points and 4.2 assists.
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He’s hit big shots, including a late go-ahead basket during a 63-57 win at Alaska Anchorage.
And in the final minutes of the most important game of the season, the Vikings needed Allen to be a leader — on the sideline.
The GNAC player of the year was virtually a no-show for most of the West Region title game as Seattle Pacific held him to a season-low six points.
But no one — not even coach Tony Dominguez — was sure how Allen would respond to being benched in the 62-58 win.
“He’s the player of the year in our conference and here’s this first-year, rookie coach — although we have a great relationship — sitting him down,” Dominguez said. “If we lose, that’s how he ends his career. That’s it. It’s a wrap.
“But he was up waving the towel. He was at half court cheering guys on. To me that is such a sign of a winner, it’s a sign of a champion and a sign of growth for him. It went a long way with his teammates, too. I’m hoping it will translate (this) week to greatness.”
After a two-week layoff, Allen and No. 1 seed Western (30-2) return to action Thursday to face No. 1 seed Florida Southern (27-5) from Lakeland, Fla., in the D-II quarterfinals at Louisville’s Freedom Hall.
It’s been a long road for Allen, who starred at Shorewood High as a junior and didn’t play at Mountlake Terrace as a senior due to transfer rules.
He walked on at Washington State and redshirted as freshman. He thought about leaving when former WSU coach Tony Bennett took the Virginia job, but decided to stay one more year.
Allen appeared in 13 games in 2009-10 before transferring to Western where he’s become a star and fan favorite.
Critics described the third-team All-American as cocky and arrogant, while Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said he’s “one of the best players in the country.” Admittedly, Allen said he plays with “an extra amount of confidence.”
“Last year coach Brad Jackson always talked about playing with emotion, but not being emotional,” he said. “That’s something that I feel like I’ve matured with that.
“I love the game. I have so much passion that if there’s a call I feel like it might hurt my team, I’m passionate about it and you’ll see that.”
The return to the Elite Eight feels familiar for the Vikings, who are three wins away from another title.
“It’s been more difficult in the sense it’s always more difficult to do something the second time around,” Allen said. “But there’s a lot of similarities. The good thing is we’re experienced. We’ve been there so we’re looking forward to it.”
Three starters return from last season’s championship team, including Allen, who was the X-factor in Western’s second run for a title.
“With John I was a little concerned coming into this season,” Dominguez said. “I’ve always kind of been his guy, but now it’s his senior year. We already won (the national title). Maybe he’s thinking, ‘I can get my stats now and set myself up for a good gig.’
“In fact, the reverse has been true. His improvement has been his leadership and just his maturity level. Little things used to really set John off. Now they start to set him off and he catches himself. He’s grown up mentally and that’s done nothing but help us.”
On the court, he’s always been demonstrative and a chatter box, who interacts verbally with opponents, referees and fans.
However, lately he’s doing plenty of talking to teammates off the court, in practice, in the locker room and yes — on the sideline.
“I’m just taking more of a leadership role,” Allen said. “Honestly at this point, I’ll do whatever it takes to win. If that’s making shots, making the right read or cheering from the bench I don’t care. I just want to win this title so bad.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @percyallen