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Pure Talent, a Fatal Flaw : Mean Streets Lead to Prison, Not Stardom, for 6-10 Allen

May 21, 1990|DANNY ROBBINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lon Morris College is located in a town of 12,000 about 125 miles southeast of Dallas. It is a 400-student Methodist school best known for a fine-arts program that lists actress Sandy Duncan and choreographer Tommy Tune among its graduates.

According to Vic Trilli, the Lon Morris basketball coach when Allen enrolled there, the decision to take Allen required discussions that reached the upper level of the school's administration.

Said Trilli: "We figured, 'Let's just take a chance with this guy, because it's a recruiting connection with UNLV that might help in the future. Maybe we can help this kid turn his life around. If not, let's get rid of him.' "

At Lon Morris, Allen played regularly in something other than a summer league or tournament for the first time in his life and, he says, learned a lesson in basketball economics from Trilli.

"If I played good, after the game, I'd go to the coach's office, talk to him," he said. "He'd tell me I played good. He'd ask me, 'Where are you going to go now?' I'd tell him, 'I'm going out with my girlfriend to get something to eat.' He'd give me some money to go eat.

"Then I'd have a few bad games. . . . I'd be in his office after the game. He'd tell me, 'If you play, I'll pay.' So I started playing (hard) every game. He'd call me in the office, with nobody in there, give me an envelope. For one game, it might be $150. The next game it might be $350, $250."

Trilli, now an assistant coach at the University of Texas, said he paid Allen's air fare from L.A. to Texas, but denied giving cash.

"I knew when he got here he didn't have anything, so my wife took him and got him a couple of pairs of pants so he could go to class and look like a student," Trilli said. "I'll admit to the fact that I may have given him $20 on the weekend when the cafeteria was closed. But hundreds of dollars in an envelope? That's absolutely asinine."

Through the first half of the 1987-88 season, Allen was the Bearcats' leading scorer, averaging 28.1 points. Perhaps more important, he was staying out of trouble.

But when the Lon Morris players were packing to leave for the Christmas break, he was accused by a teammate of stealing a warmup suit, touching off a dormitory brawl in which Allen was attacked by a teammate wielding one leg of a chair that had been broken in the fight.

Allen returned to Lon Morris after the break, but a few days later, Trilli put him on a bus headed west.

"He was tearing up my team," Trilli said. "It was a question of whether I would be with Clifford or with my team."

Next stop: L.A. Harbor College, where Allen enrolled in the spring of 1988. Having finally fallen out of favor with UNLV, he was a free agent, and when the Daily Breeze newspaper in Torrance reported his presence at Harbor, Division I coaches began contacting the school to inquire about his status.

"As soon as word got out that he was here, I started getting calls and letters," Harbor Coach Ken Curry said. "Everybody wanted to know if he had a chance to get an A.A. (associate of arts) degree. It was like, 'Hey, I know he's a fool, but if he gets a degree, don't forget me.' "

As a transfer student, Allen needed to pass 12 units at Harbor in the spring to be eligible to play in the fall. Curry gave one of his players the job of picking Allen up each morning and taking him to school. By the middle of the semester, however, Curry learned from the designated driver that Allen was refusing to get up in the morning. Looking into the matter, the coach found out that Allen was making other plans.

"He said he was dropping out (of Harbor) to go to some school in Texas," Curry said. "The quote he gave me was he was going there because he wouldn't have to go to class, and I was making him go to class."

And so Allen was on the move again, this time to San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Tex., outside Houston. With perhaps the best-known junior college basketball program in the nation, San Jacinto has won four National Junior College Athletic Assn. championships and gained a reputation for turning hard cases into Division I players.

Scott Gernander, San Jacinto's coach, says he knew going in that Allen "liked to drink quite a bit," rarely went to class and had "beaten the heck out of a guy" as a high school senior. But Gernander had seen Allen play against San Jacinto twice the previous fall--"I couldn't believe how good he was," he said--and so, when he learned that Allen was shopping for a school, he put in a call to Los Angeles.

Allen arrived at San Jacinto, once again needing to complete 12 hours to be eligible, and apparently he got those hours during San Jacinto's two summer sessions in 1988--sessions during which, Allen says, he did little work. He was able to pass his courses, he said, by turning in papers given to him in completed form by Scott Horstman, an assistant coach.

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