SEATTLE — John Allen has accomplished a lot during his career as a basketball player, and tonight’s game against the University of Washington will mark yet another first for the Western Washington University senior.
No, not playing on the big stage. Allen and the Vikings already did that on their run to an NCAA Division II national title last season.
And, no, this won’t even be Allen’s first game at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. He’s played there a few times — mostly at the AAU level but also during the final minute of a Pacific-10 Conference rivalry game when Allen was a freshman at Washington State.
Nor will it be Allen’s first time playing against players like Abdul Gaddy, C.J. Wilcox and Andrew Andrews. The Huskies’ backcourt spent a good part of the summer playing at North Seattle Community College, where Allen and some of his teammates were in action and sizing themselves up against the competition.
What will make tonight’s game truly unique for Allen, not to mention a few other Vikings who played on the national title team, will be the man sitting near Lorenzo Romar on the UW bench. When WWU takes on the Huskies in an exhibition game at Hec Ed, the Vikings will not only be without head coach Brad Jackson for the first time — but they’ll also be playing against him.
“It’s definitely going to be a little weird,” said Allen, a senior who played at Mountlake Terrace High School and WSU before transferring to Western in 2009. “I don’t think there are any hard feelings or anything; it’s just going to be a little weird.
“We got a little close when (Jackson) was here, and I always thought it would happen (that the coach would move on at some point). So I’d say I’m more happy for him than anything.”
Jackson, who spent 27 years as head coach at WWU before leaving this summer to take a job as a UW assistant, is happy to have made the move but will enter tonight’s game with mixed emotions.
“I honestly haven’t thought about it too much,” Jackson said Tuesday, “but it will be different — especially when we get out on the floor.”
Jackson was back with his former WWU players earlier this month, when the Vikings were scheduled to get their championship rings, and he said that experience might make tonight a little easier. But he was quick to add that he’s a Husky now and will help his new team however he can.
“We’ll come out and try to take advantage of whatever knowledge that we have against our opponent,” Jackson said.
It’s clear that there are no hard feelings coming from Bellingham, despite Jackson’s sudden departure. He accepted the job just a few weeks ago, when UW assistant Raphael Chillious was hired by Villanova, and left the Vikings in the hands of former assistant and interim head coach Tony Dominguez.
“Coach Dominguez has played a pretty vital role ever since I’ve been here,” said Allen, a point guard and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s preseason player of the year. “It seems like not much has changed.”
Except expectations. Coming off a national-championship season, the Vikings have a bigger spotlight on them this time around. And getting a shot at the bigger program from the south is a good way to make a statement — even though the game won’t count in the standings.
“I don’t think anyone is taking it like an exhibition game,” Allen said. “We know it’s not going to hurt us — win or lose — but I think it’s kind of cool for the whole community. For everyone who supports us, it’s a cool experience.”
Romar isn’t expecting the Division II team to roll over tonight at Hec Ed.
“When you’re playing a team like (WWU), the defending national champs, they’re not going to be intimidated,” Romar said. “They know how to win. It’s going to be a great, great game for us in preparation for our season — and that’s what you want.”
Technically, no one is going to win tonight’s game at Hec Ed. But the Vikings would certainly like to show their former coach that they can hang with the big boys.
“The psychological advantage is certainly in their favor,” said Jackson, who knows both teams well. “… I do not think it will be a situation where they’ll be intimidated or will hold back.”