It is the end of a long college basketball season, and any number of players across the country are beat up physically as the regular season gives way to conference tournaments.
The University of Utah basketball team is not immune to that fact.
At one point last week, athletic trainer Trevor Jameson alerted coach Larry Krystkowiak that Timmy Allen would be taking this particular day off from practice. Krystkowiak didn’t see much of a problem with that. After all, his star junior guard has been dealing with some nagging injuries lately, foot and wrist mostly. There was no doubt Allen would play in games, but if he wanted to take a day to rest up, there would be no argument from Krystkowiak.
When Krystkowiak arrived at practice, Allen was not in his usual place warming up, but was instead inconspicuously getting loose down the other end of the floor. Krystkowiak and Allen met eyes, Allen asked his coach if he had talked to Jameson about missing practice that day. Krystkowiak indicated he had, but before anything else could be uttered, Allen said he was going to practice that day.
“When you combine leadership skills with a guy that wants to be on the court, and is really walking the walk as far as engagement and hating to lose anything, I think that’s a real positive thing, when your perceived best player or leader is also one of your hardest workers,” Krystkowiak said Monday as Utah prepares to face Washington Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. “It makes the whole program flow a heck of a lot better.”
Whatever nagging injuries or COVID-19 protocols Allen has had to deal with this winter, he has stood tall as a durable piece of this sometimes-good, sometimes-bad, never-boring Utah machine. He played in all 23 regular-season games, averaging 16.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Utes.
His game has taken clear steps forward from a season ago, and a lot, if not all of that maturation can be traced back to the work he put in at The Garage.
At Las Vegas
UTAH VS. WASHINGTON
When • Wednesday, 5 p.m. MT
TV • Pac-12 Networks
Tony Miller is a former USC assistant, former overseas pro, former standout guard at Marquette who has now laid down roots in the Phoenix area, not far from where Allen grew up in Mesa. His playing and coaching careers over, Miller is now something of a personal trainer/basketball skills coach.
Allen came to Miller during his junior year of high school, around the time his mother, Elise, died from breast cancer. Back then, The Garage was more of an idea. As Miller explains it, a garage is where the tools are, where you work, where you learn how to fix things, so he felt that apropos from a basketball standpoint.
Miller did not have a gym of his own to train kids, but Allen stuck with him, bouncing from gym to gym, continuing to put in the work wherever they could find space.
Near the intersection of 40th Street and Broadway Road in Phoenix sits a gym. Once belonging to out-of-nowhere national high school power Hillcrest Prep, Miller began renting that space out. Hillcrest Prep gave up the facility to someone else, but Miller kept renting it. Now, that space belongs to him. The Garage was an idea, but is now a real, tangible thing.
“We started calling that place The Garage because it was all hot and beat up,” Allen told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We would have workouts in there and people had to stop because it was too hot. No air conditioning, 110 degrees outside.”
Added Miller: “We definitely tried to build a culture in there, when guys come in here, they need to expect certain things. They were going to hear things they would keep hearing as they got older from college coaches or whoever. I was going to tell them directly. I was going to make sure they understand what was expected of them in the future. We were going to work at a pace where, when they got to college, they’d understand.”
Allen compared his relationship with Miller to that of an uncle. Miller reciprocated that notion, saying that conversations and even help given goes beyond just basketball. Miller was frank, though. Allen is trying to get someplace Miller has been, and Miller is going to play it straight with Allen, whether Allen wants it that way or not.
“We grew a relationship to where I’m going to push and I’m going to tell him directly what it is,” Miller said, letting out a slight laugh. He may not want to hear it, but he’s going to hear it.”
In the middle of the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention the brutal heat of an Arizona summer, this was Allen’s offseason. Time spent with Miller, time spent at The Garage trying to hone in on what his game needed to improve upon.
Both Allen and Miller point to Allen’s jumper, specifically the mechanics of it. A year ago, that jumper felt more like a set shot, complete with an awkward hitch at the top of its release.
Allen’s jumper is not totally clean, but it is absolutely night and day from what it was last season. The hitch is nearly gone, and the set-shot motion has turned into a quicker release with better hand placement. The result this season has been Allen being more willing to pull up or take a mid-range jumper. Whereas last season, more times than not, Allen would pound the ball into the floor, get into the lane and either put up a floater, or try and pivot his way to the rim.
His offensive repertoire has opened up this season. Allen’s legitimate range is not quite yet out to the 3-point line, where he is shooting 26.3% this season, but one thing at a time.
“I think he does get deep and in tune to basketball because he’s had so much happen,” Miller said. “It’s something he used as motivation because he knows his mom would have wanted it for him and she would have supported him if she were here. He’s not locked in where forgets about usual day-to-day stuff, but he’s focused. He’s a little more mature because he had to mature earlier, grow up earlier, so his demeanor is a little different, even from some college kids. His work ethic is great and he’s just a great kid. Those two things are what I think we’ll help to continue to grow.”
Allen’s junior season will come to a close this week at the Pac-12 Tournament, and what the future holds is very much up for debate.
A year ago, Allen tossed his name into the NBA draft underclassmen pool, but a year ago was a bad time to be an NBA Draft prospect. The early days of the pandemic meant there would be no group workouts at team facilities, which is a critical piece of the pre-draft process. Allen told The Tribune he has not made up his mind about his future, and has tried to think about that as little as possible.
Allen’s future, no matter what it holds, is going to be a key offseason storyline. He will be a junior again next season after the NCAA froze the eligibility clock because of the pandemic. There may be no real benefit to declaring for the draft again this spring, because there is no guarantee the pre-draft process will be back to any real normalcy with the pandemic still ongoing.
Either way, this much is clear. Allen wants to make the sport his career.
“I love this game, I’ve been tested by this game a lot of times and I’m sure this season won’t be the last,” Allen said. “This game has broken me, this game has uplifted me, made me feel the best and the worst. That might sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. There were moments over the summer where I was struggling, trying to figure it out, and some of my highest moments have come from this game and where it’s taken me. This is most definitely what I want to do for the rest of my life, professionally for sure, but I couldn’t not love this game. I’m stuck.”