SEATTLE – They’ve got a new kid on the Husky men’s basketball team you’re going to like.
His name is Curtis Allen, he’s a 6-foot, 160-pound freshman guard and he’s quicker than an eye-blink.
He’s got just enough sass in his game already to make him dangerous to opposing teams and once he gets some serious minutes on his legs, he’ll be the most exciting player to put on a Husky uniform in some time.
He’s already the best ball handler on the team and the best penetrator.
Sometimes he’s too aggressive, piercing too deeply into the defense, where he gets surrounded by big bodies and there’s no way out, but even then he’s fun to watch … this wee little guy trying to wiggle out of trouble.
Two games into the season and already he’s catching on with the fans. Like late in Saturday’s game against New Mexico State, when the Huskies had an all veteran lineup on the floor that was having some trouble with the Aggies’ press, someone shouted from up in the balcony, “Get some quickness in there.”
Meaning “get Allen and C.J. Massingale in there.”
Like Allen, Massingale is a freshman with quickness and good ball-handling ability. But instead of putting this young tandem in, coach Bob Bender had a senior guard duo of Bryan Brown and Michael Johnson on the floor.
Which left some people shaking their heads in puzzlement.
Me for one. But what do I know?
Bender had his reasons. He’d better have his reasons, right?
Bender is a very loyal coach when it comes to playing his seniors and this was one time when he felt more secure with the veterans. That and he didn’t want to risk putting the freshmen into a tight game, have them have a possible “bad experience with the press.”
“We’re going to get them in there, there’s no question,” he said. “But we needed to win the game and we were going to go down the stretch with those (veteran) guys.”
It worked. Barely. The veterans kept blowing free throws down the stretch (they made only 10 of their final 22 in the final two minutes) but held on to eke out an 81-77 victory.
This, of course, was an historical win. The first men’s game in the refurbished old gym with the fancy new name – Bank of America Arena.
Why the game drew only 6,313 is puzzling. You’d think people would be curious just to see how old Hec Edmundson Pavilion has been spruced up.
You see the movie “Hoosiers?” Remember the gym where they played the state tournament? Several people compared the new-look Husky home with that gym.
Best thing about it: It looks and feels like a basketball arena.
They brought former Husky head coach Marv Harshman back for the pregame ceremonies and you could tell he was tickled with the makeover. He might not have been too tickled with the Husky play at times, but say this: It was much better than it was in the season-opening game against Texas-El Paso on Tuesday night.
Maybe it was the environment. But the Huskies played with much more energy than they did in that 73-61 loss to UTEP at KeyArena. Bank of America Arena seemed to put extra spring in their step, though it didn’t do much for their concentration. Not when they made only 25 of 49 free throws.
Give Harshman 10 warmups and he could make 25 of 49. And he’s a young 83.
Last year’s Huskies went 10-20. This year’s team should do better. How much? Hard to say.
It has some kids who can play. The veteran Will Perkins is an active forward, as he showed Saturday with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior Thalo Green has developed a deadly 15-foot jump shot that helped him get 17 points Saturday. This was his first action of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery three weeks ago. Had he been in the lineup Tuesday, the Huskies might very well be 2-0.
Junior Marlon Shelton, son of ex-Sonic Lonnie, showed some good things Saturday. He made 4 of 5 shots and blocked a couple of attempts. The Huskies need his presence – he’s 6-10, 270 pounds – inside.
They also have David Dixon to play center, and while the coaches claim he’s dropped some weight since last year, his belly still jiggles when he runs and he can’t go for many minutes at a time. How much he’ll help them when they get into conference play is questionable. Shelton is easily the most athletic of the two and might be a pretty fair player by the time he graduates.
Allen and Massingale will be better than fair when they leave the U. Massingale can score or distribute the ball, as he showed as a senior in high school, averaging 22 points and six assists for Mount Tahoma. Allen had similar stats (25 points and four assists) for Wilson High in Tacoma.
Both kids look as if they feel right at home in college ball already. They’re both very aggressive. Allen is so quick that he can change directions with the flick of a finger, leaving his defender off balance and helpless.
He’s quick at making decisions, too. One time he drove the basket and was cut off by a defender. Rather than forcing a shot, he flipped a pass to Shelton on the baseline and the big guy dropped in a soft jumper.
Bender characterized Allen as fearless. “You can’t have fear when you’re the littlest guy out there,” Allen said. “When I get out there I can’t let them treat me like a little punk.”
Would he like to have been in the game in those final critical minutes?
“Yeah,” he said, “but we’ve got experienced seniors ahead of me so I’m just going to wait my turn.”
His turn will come – and soon.
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