John Allen’s college basketball career began with what could be called a wrong turn.
Four years later, Allen found himself part of a Western Washington University team that definitely was headed in the right direction.
The 23-year-old Allen, who lives in Brier and spent two years at Washington State before transferring to Western, helped lead the Vikings to the 2011-12 NCAA Division II national championship. A starting guard and the team’s second-leading scorer a year ago, he was instrumental in the Vikings’ push to the national title.
Allen’s play and contributions this season have been equally stellar. He recently was named the 2012-13 Player of the Year in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and is the leading scorer for the Vikings, who finished their regular season with a dazzling 26-1 record and were the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division II West Regional tournament.
For his efforts in two remarkable seasons, Allen is The Herald’s 2012 Man of the Year in Sports.
The funny thing is, Allen never envisioned his college career reaching such heights. After graduating from Mountlake Terrace High School, he spent his first two seasons at Washington State, where he redshirted as a true freshman and then played sparingly the following year.
Wanting more, he transferred to Western Washington and helped turn a very good program into one of the nation’s best.
In March of last year, the Vikings won three games to claim the West Regional title, and then three more to capture the first national title in the program’s history. The championship game on March 24 saw WWU defeat Montevallo (Ala.), 72-65, with Allen leading five Vikings players in double figures with 14 points.
“It was one of those pinnacle moments,” Allen said last week. “And I would definitely say that it was one of the most memorable moments in my sports career.
“I’ve been asked a lot about what it felt like when we were finally cutting down the nets and getting our rings,” he said. “But it was just crazy. I still don’t think it’s quite hit me. People say that later in life when you’re telling your kids or your grandkids about it, that’s maybe when it will finally seem real.”
The Vikings’ goal this season has been to repeat “so we’re really not thinking about (last year) that much. We’re trying to let the past be the past. But later on, when I’m done playing basketball on a competitive level, I think that’s when it’ll sink in about what it meant and how much of an accomplishment it was.”
If skeptics thought last season’s championship was a fluke, the 2012-13 Vikings have put that notion to rest. Western Washington, which won its last six games a year ago, began this season with 24 straight victories to push its school-record winning streak to 30 games.
The string finally ended on Feb. 21 with a 77-73 road loss to Alaska-Fairbanks.
“It’s been fun (this season), having an opportunity to defend our title,” Allen said. “As a competitor, you always want to play at the highest level. You want to have the toughest games, the toughest matchups. And when teams have played us this (season), it’s not just another game to them.
“Everyone wants a shot at trying to beat us so they can say they beat the champs. When you have a target from being the defending national champion, you’re going to get everyone’s best game. So it’s really been fun and really exciting.”
Regardless of how the current season pans out, the memories of last year’s extraordinary run will remain precious, Allen said.
“It was really a cool experience to be able to experience that with a group of guys that had grown so close together,” he explained. “We had a real tight-knit locker room. We hung out together off the court and we were real close together on the road. We all kind of stuck together. And then when we needed to win, we came together.
“It was just a lot of fun, seeing us all grow together and then having it culminate in a championship.”