MOSCOW, Idaho – Trevon Allen is bent low, maintaining a dribble about 8 inches off the floor. His eyes are forward, looking while a Montana State defender looms over him. Seemingly unconcerned about the opponent, Allen waits patiently for something to develop – a teammate to pop free off a screen, establish position in the low post, be ready to accept a pass and keep the offense flowing.
Later in the game, bringing the ball across midcourt, Allen is strong enough to briefly fend off the man guarding him. Allen steps back and gets off a jump shot.
On another possession, reminiscent of Idaho’s Victor Sanders last season, Allen drives toward the hoop, slows momentarily and draws defenders then reaccelerates past them to score.
Vandals coach Don Verlin mentally scrolls through the guards he has coached at Idaho: Sanders, the dynamic scorer; Mac Hopson, a gritty competitor; and Mike Scott, smooth at getting teammates the ball.
“Trevon can be the best complete guard,” Verlin said. “He can be the best all-around guard we’ve ever had if he stays the course and keeps going.”
As an Idaho team with 10 sophomores and freshmen tries to learn to play as an experienced unit and overcome its 4-12 record in time to secure the fifth seed at the Big Sky Conference Tournament, Allen, a junior, is the Vandals’ leader on the court and in the locker room. He is averaging a team-high 14.7 points, along with 4.3 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
“Staying positive is the biggest thing,” Allen said.
Allen not only leads because he must.
“I like it,” he said.
Justin Jones, who coached Allen at Clarkston High School, lauded Allen’s approach.
“He has a leadership style that really attracts people to him,” Jones said. “He is the epitome of the servant leader. He wants other people to do well.”
According to Verlin, Idaho would not have as much of its scheme installed if not for Allen’s ability to get younger teammates to understand the concepts coaches are teaching.
Nonetheless, this is all happening a year early. Nate Sherwood, a standout forward last season, was supposed to be Idaho’s senior leader until his final year was erased by an illness.
“I had built this team around Nate,” Verlin said. “We did not know he would not be available until the first couple of weeks of school. This was going to be Nate’s team. Trevon was going to be his first lieutenant, and next year it was going to be Trevon’s team.”
But Allen has always been in a hurry as a Vandal. A new tattoo adorns an inner bicep, an image of a clock with hands indicating the time Allen was born. Before he had even gone through freshman orientation, Allen was playing basketball for the Vandals.
The summer he graduated from high school, Idaho’s team went on a summer tour to China. Verlin phoned Allen before that trip.
“I thought he was just checking in,” Allen said.
The conversation turned to the upcoming tour, and Allen asked if there was a TV channel or something where he could watch the games. Well, Verlin told him, he could watch from the court.
“Three days after I graduated from high school, I was on a plane going to China,” Allen said. “I got my passport in a week, and I registered for a class, so I could be enrolled.”
That trip accelerated Allen’s development in another way. Chance Garvin, who came to Idaho in the same class as Allen but redshirted and is a sophomore, remembers Allen getting some heat following a workout after the Vandals returned from China.
“You’re not a freshman anymore,” is what Garvin remembers Allen being told.
NCAA Division I basketball is hardly replete with Native American players. Idaho is unique because Allen and Garvin come from tribal backgrounds.
Garvin is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Although Allen grew up on the Nez Perce Tribe reservation in Lapwai, Idaho, his mother, Sonya Samuels Allen, a Nez Perce tribal housing official, had the choice of enrolling him in either the Nez Perce Tribe or Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and chose the latter.
Garvin and Allen played against each other in tribal tournaments. Garvin recalls Allen as a quick, adept scorer.
Neither was aware the other had signed with Idaho until they met at an orientation at the UI Native American Student Center as freshman.
“Man, I’m going to have to guard that every day now,” Garvin said he thought at the time.
As tribal members, Garvin and Allen both say they are widely supported.
“We get a lot of support from a bunch of different tribes. You get messages on Facebook from people you don’t really know,” Garvin said.
Allen hopes to play professional basketball, but when he is finished with basketball, he wants a career focused on health and wellness for Native American kids.
“(The tribal association) is a huge piece of my motivation and success,” Allen said. “I want to give back to the people who shaped and molded me.”
Allen received some recruiting interest from Weber State and Eastern Washington, but Idaho always had the inside track. His father, Alan Allen, a resource and services navigator for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, was a standout wide receiver for the Vandals. Allen’s aunt heads the UI Native American Student Center.
Verlin first became aware of Allen when he watched his son’s Moscow High team play a Clarkston team featuring an unusually talented sophomore guard.
“I was watching my son play, and I thought, ‘Hey, that kid’s pretty good. We should follow him.’ We did our research and just went from there,” Verlin said of recruiting Allen.
Allen’s big choice was whether to play basketball or football for the Vandals. He was also a standout wide receiver and defensive back, and his father’s position coach in college was current UI football coach Paul Petrino.
“It was a tough choice,” Allen said. “I still like football a ton. I chose basketball because I had put more time and work into it.”
Playing for Clarkston instead of Lapwai high school still doesn’t sit well with some tribal members who envisioned a string of Idaho state championships led by Allen. But his parents wanted him to experience the wider academic choices and the greater athletic recruiting attention Clarkston afforded.
Allen also brought plenty to Clarkston.
“He was extremely coachable,” Jones said. “I coached him very hard.”
Jones remembers a win against archrival Lewiston during Allen’s senior year.
“He had a decent game, but average for him,” Jones said.
The coach was celebrating with his wife at a late dinner afterward when he got a call.
“It was Trevon. He was asking for the keys to the gym. He stayed for an hour-and-a-half, shooting,” Jones said. “People see how smooth he is and how talented. But they don’t see the work that goes into his game.”
Allen consistently focuses on the next possession.
“I’ve always liked that about him. He never seems to get out of character,” Verlin said.
When Allen remembers something painful, he spins it forward.
Probably the most distressing event in the Vandals’ recent collective memory is last season’s conference tournament. After narrowly defeating Southern Utah twice in the regular season, Idaho was ousted by the Thunderbirds in the Big Sky tourney.
“Southern Utah last year might be us this year,” Allen said.
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