|Posted by shawn cassidy on July 31, 2011 at 2:13 AM|
Walter Ray Allen was born on July 20, 1975. His parents, Flora and Walter, lived a military life. At the time, the couple was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in Merced, California. Ray was the third of their five kids. Walt was a welding specialist. "Flo" was a wide-eyed girl from Arkansas who had picked cotton as a child. For her, moving from base to base every three years and seeing the world was still an adventure for Flo.
Always smiling, Ray was full of joy as a kid who seemed unaffected by Walter's hopscotching career. Early in Ray's life, his father was sent to Bentwaters Air Force Base in England, and the family naturally followed. There they lived in an American community in Saxmundum, a town about 25 miles from the base. This is where Ray got his first exposure to organized sports, in Pee Wee football. If you think youth football parents are over-the-top, try taking in a game at a military base. Ray was no bigger than the other boys, but he was clearly an exceptional athlete.
He was also a solid soccer and baseball player. On the diamond, Ray could hit the ball with loads of power. After his eighth birthday, he was old enough for a league in which coaches pitched. Ray was the only kid who could clear the line drawn in the outfield demarcating a home run. Before long, Little League parents were pushing for him to jump to the next level.
Ray's first growth spurt started when he was around 10. He gravitated to basketball and joined an organized league while the Allens were stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In no time, he was flashing an advanced offensive arsenal and anticipating enemy passes with uncanny accuracy.
After Ray's first game, Flo told him that he had a gift for basketball—and that he shouldn't waste it. She also told him that exercising his brain was just as important. Ray grew to be just as comfortable with a book in his hands as he was with a basketball.
Ray’s skills took an enormous leap forward when he began working with Phil Pleasant, who ran youth basketball leagues in the Allens' Southern California neighborhood. Pleasant's primary objective was to keep local kids out of trouble, but he recognized a spark of genius in 12-year-old Ray and spent extra time breaking down the fundamentals for him. By analyzing the strengths and weaknesses in his own game, Ray made rapid progress. Simultaneously, he learned how to size up an opponent's vulnerabilities.
At this point, Ray was big enough and good enough to run with adults. One day, after the family had moved to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, his father took him to the gym to play with the other fathers and sons. A guard stopped the Allens, pointing out that Ray wasn't 16 and therefore not allowed in the building. Walt argued to no avail that his son was taller—and better—than most of the fathers. Later he was reprimanded by his superiors for insubordination. The incident infuriated Ray, who vowed to become the best hoopster on the base.
By the end of ninth grade, Ray had sprouted to a height of 6-2. When he was 15, he moved on to the varsity at South Carolina's Hillcrest High School, where he averaged 18 points a game for coach James Smith. The teenager brought the crowd to its feet on a nightly basis. Ray blossomed into a first-rate star by the 11th grade, with an excellent all-court game. Intelligent, thoughtful and self-assured, he was a natural leader who formed close friendships with his classmates.
In the spring of 1993, after Ray completed his junior basketball season, things started getting complicated. His longtime girlfriend, Rosalind Ramsey, announced she was pregnant. For Ray, the idea of being a parent was crippling. As the due date approached, he arrived at some important decisions. In order to provide for his child, he needed a college education. The best way to get one was to earn a basketball scholarship. And the better a player he was, the more choices of schools he would have. There was always the possibility of playing pro ball, but he treated it as a long shot.
Ray got super serious about polishing his game that summer. Meanwhile, he and Rosalind celebrated the birth of a little girl, Tierra. The plan was for mother and child to live with her parents, with Flo helping out until Ray graduated from college. Then his family would be his responsibility.
In the meantime, the Allen home was recruiting central. Coaches loved Ray's diverse talents and leadership skills, and they weren't scared off by the fact that he was a father. The competition to sign Ray intensified after he attended the Nike All-American camp in Indianapolis. Against the nation’s best high school juniors, he was able to do pretty much whatever he pleased.
The week provided Ray with a valuable learning experience. The kids in camp constantly talked about playing college ball and then going to the NBA. Ray realized that only a handful of the campers would get that far. That made him see that skill was not enough. He had to raise his mental game to stay ahead of the pack.
When the 1993-94 season rolled around, Ray felt like a different player. Physically he had matured, but it was intellectually that he had really grown. He was now being called one of the smartest players in South Carolina—this despite an embarrassing blunder after the opening tip-off on his senior campaign. Ray grabbed the ball, raced down the floor, and did a monster jam—in his own basket! As it turned out, that was about the only thing he did wrong all year. Hillcrest went 26-4 and made it to the state championship game.
That contest, against Byrnes High in the Carolina Coliseum, marked the first time the Rams had ever challenged for the state title. Ray played brilliantly in the first half, as Hillcrest opened up a 40-14 lead. In the second half, Byrnes came storming back, and what had looked like an easy victory was suddenly in jeopardy. Coach Smith called a timeout and told his players to let Ray take over. Eager to nail down the victory, he finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Rams to the championship.
On a high from his state title, Ray chose to attend the University of Connecticut. He had been wooed by several bigger programs and at first leaned toward Rick Pitino and Kentucky. But Howie Dickenman, an assistant from Jim Calhoun's UConn staff, worked hard to make a good impression on the Allens. He seemed to care about Ray and what was best for the family. When Calhoun showed the same concern—and promised Ray that the Huskies would be "his" team after a year or two—he decided to head north to continue his career.