Jan. 7, 1998
Quietly Making Noise
by John Gust
Some players talk a big game and it is usually those same players who make it their duty to explain to their opponents all about the shot which was just drained in their face or their shot which was just sent packing ten rows into the crowd. Villanova's Malik Allen rarely changes his expression on the court however, and rarely if ever has any choice words to say to his opponent. The Wildcats' junior forward instead lets his actions do the talking and those actions have quietly and quickly made him a force to be reckoned with in the Big East Conference.
With sports holding a big role in his family, Allen could be seen dribbling a basketball from a very early age. He began playing organized ball in fifth grade in the Catholic Youth League and developed a deep love that took him through middle school basketball and up through high school.
Taller than many of his counterparts, Allen always had the height advantage. It was because of his dedication to the sport, however, that his advantage transformed into hard work and later greatness.
"I have always worked at it because I like playing. I also had great coaches there to help me from CYO, to high school and up through now, and my family was there to support me," said Allen.
"I have had a lot of people that have been with me and supported me all along the way."
In a high school sport whose following is forever increasing, Shawnee High School in Medford, N.J., had one of the best followings around the New Jersey area. Allen helped put Shawnee on the map making them contenders throughout his four-year career. Receiving All-American honorable mention honors by Parade Magazine as a senior, he was also an All-State basketball player who twice rang up South Jersey and Burlington County Player-of-the-Year awards. Before his Shawnee career ended, Allen led them to three Group IV state titles and four South Jersey Group IV championships.
"We had one of the best followings around with both students and the community," said Allen. "It is fun when it first happens at that level, because you are not used to playing on television or in front of huge crowds like we did."
After an exceptional high school career, Allen chose Villanova as his next destination. Allen showed flashes of brilliance coming off the bench as a freshman, but received scattered playing time behind seniors Jason Lawson and Chuck Kornegay. His breakthrough game came at Philadelphia's famed Palestra when he scored 10 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in only 19 minutes against the University of Pennsylvania.
"Last year was a real learning experience playing behind two really good players like Jason and Chuck," said Allen. "There are times when you get frustrated, but those are things that go along with being a freshman. In the long run, it helps you learn how the system works." Averaging 11.5 minutes a game, Allen went on to average two points and just under three rebounds in 31 contests. Despite all the ups and downs that go along with being a freshman, the season ended with an NCAA berth for Allen and the Wildcats.
After playing only one minute of a 101-91 win over Long Island, he played seven minutes scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds in a heartbreaking loss to California in the NCAA second round.
"My first NCAA Tournament was exciting," said Allen. "You could definitely tell the difference between the regular season and the hype of an NCAA Tournament. It's fun going to different places and seeing all of the excitement, but there is a little bit of nervousness because it is not the regular season. If you lose, you don't get another chance. I guess that's what makes the tournament fun."
Unlike years ago when freshmen often had an adjusting period before being thrown into the fire, freshman of the 1990's are often expected to walk into stardom. With a deep Wildcat frontcourt in 1997, Allen had the luxury which many rookies now-a-days don't have, of being eased into basketball at the college level.
"There is so much hype built out of a player's high school reputation, when really the game is totally different at the college level," said Allen. "There is a lot of adjusting having to do with playing, learning the college game itself and even getting used to the school atmosphere. If you sit back and think, it is a tough adjustment, but you just have to go out and play your hardest. If you go out and play your hardest, you can have no regrets."
Penciled in as the Wildcats' starting power forward in 1997-98 even before the 1996-97 season ended, Allen has the job of helping lead a young Wildcat squad to the type of 20-win, NCAA season often expected of Villanova basketball. Critics like to say it can't be done, and are labeling 1998 as a "rebuilding" season for the Wildcats. Losing three players to the NBA and having to look upon a handful of youngsters is said to be too tall a hill to climb by some critics standards, but Allen is confident that Villanova has the talent and heart to defy the odds.
"That's just people trying to be negative. You have to put that aside and build on top of that," Allen said. "We have a lot of talent. If we come together and play as a team, we'll surprise some people. If we take the attitude that it is a rebuilding year, then we won't get as much out of ourselves."
It is not everyday that a player comes along with the whole package- size, a scoring touch on offense, and both rebounding and shot blocking ability on defense. Only shortly into his sophomore season, it appears Allen has all of the above. Strutting his stuff against some of the nation's best early on into the 1997-98 season, he has put up solid numbers but the presence he gives his team inside is a stat that cannot be measured.
"Everyone wants to have good stats like 13-15 points and 8-10 rebounds a game, and everyone wants to make one of the All-Big East teams," said Allen. My main focus though, is that the team does well. If I don't get the numbers and we win, I could care less. The team always goes first. Our hopes are to go the Big East Tournament and to come out on top, and to go back to the NCAA Tournament."
What makes an athlete special is each individual's identity; A characteristic that makes all the great one's unique. Villanova's "silky smooth" Kerry Kittles slipping past defenders in the lane for the finger roll. The flight of "his airness" Michael Jordan for the NBA's Chicago Bulls and the "Iron Horse" blue collar work ethic of Cal Ripkin Jr. for the Baltimore Orioles. They all have one thing in common and this element is the fact that each and every one of them is uniquely different.
"I play hard. I am a tough nose player that just likes to go out and play," said Allen. "Some people are described as having a smooth game or a finesse game. I don't know what category I fall into. I am not a big talker. I am just a quiet kid, who likes to lead by example and have his action do the talking."
Looking into the future, Allen hopes that basketball in what he calls "the league" is on the horizon. The NBA is for the future, however, and he would rather not talk about it. College players often have no problem comparing themselves to players in "the league". Although Allen like most enjoys watching the talented players that roam the NBA , he refuses to compare himself to players at that level yet. Despite having this quiet demeaner, Allen has a game that speaks for itself. It is his game that may just help the Wildcats sneak up on their opponents in 1997-98.