LAS VEGAS – David Riley’s short tenure as Eastern Washington’s basketball coach is already loaded with special moments the 34-year-old will savor long after his career ends.
There was his first Division I win, on Nov. 19, 2021, against Cal State-Northridge, his first win against a high-major program eight days later at Washington State and, more recently, a historic 18-game winning streak midway through the 2022-23 season that stood as the longest unbeaten stretch in the country before it ended Feb. 25 against Idaho State.
Another one of those moments arrived for the young Eastern Washington coach last month when Riley was finalizing plans to watch former Eagles guard Angelo Allegri make his professional debut for the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
Riley pinged his point guard a few days before Charlotte’s July 9 game against the Los Angeles Lakers to let him know he’d be in the crowd.
“The best part was texting him the other day asking him if I could get tickets to his Lakers game,” Riley said during the game. “It’s a cool text to send to him, to a kid that two years ago wasn’t supposed to be in this situation and I’m just excited to follow his journey now.”
Allegri didn’t start his college basketball career in Cheney, but his game evolved there and the standout guard managed to parlay strong junior and senior seasons under Riley into an Exhibit 10 contract with the NBA’s Hornets.
Before arriving at Eastern Washington, Allegri had averaged 7.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists per game during the 2020-21 season at UNC Greensboro. With a change of scenery, a modified role and new coaching staff, his numbers ballooned at EWU and Allegri finished his senior year averaging 13.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
His field goal percentage shot up, from 36.4% at UNCG to 46.5% at EWU, and he saw measurable improvements to his 3-point shooting (32.4% to 37.4%) and free throw shooting (69% to 74%).
“The move really expanded (my game) as a player,” Allegri said after a summer league practice in Las Vegas. “I had to take on a lot more responsibilities being a leader and being with a team with a whole new system, just a whole new structure, whole new coaching staff. It was a lot, but it allowed me to blossom. I was really able to blossom out there at Eastern Washington and I look back now watching film and I’m like man, those two years were really good to me.
“They were really good years.”
“Blossomed” also came up in a separate interview with Riley as the coach described Allegri’s growth from the summer of 2021, when he made the cross-country trek from Greensboro to Cheney, to the spring of 2023, when he left EWU as an All-Big Sky first team selection and the top assist-getter for a 23-11 Eagles team.
“A lot of film, a lot of time in the gym, a lot of time not doing the fun ball-handling workout and shooting workouts but more so just having himself in read situations,” Riley said. “Him and (assistant coach) Pedro (Garcia Rosado) spent a lot of time watching film and working this year to put himself in that position.”
Putting the ball in Allegri’s hands, mainly, is what allowed the Eagles to unlock the best version of the Kansas City, Missouri, native.
“He was a really effective kind of 3-and-D player at Greensboro and for us, he blossomed as a point guard,” Riley said. “He did everything and just had a chance to show his versatility. That’s the biggest thing.”
Allegri is still the same knockdown 3-point shooter, just with an expanded set of tools.
He seized his only opportunity in Vegas, going 3 of 6 from the 3-point line to score nine points in 15 minutes during a 109-92 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Allegri also registered three rebounds and two assists in the game.
He didn’t get on the floor in four other Vegas games, or in Charlotte’s two games at the California Classic.
“The more I’m spending time with the guys, the more I’m in practice doing drills and whatnot I’m like, ‘Wow, I can actually become something I never thought I could in my dreams,’ ” Allegri said. “That really just has been a huge reality for me.”
Allegri’s only pre-draft workout came with the Hornets. He had others scheduled, but one day after his audition in Charlotte the guard came down wrong on his foot during a combine and was forced to avoid basketball activities for the next five weeks – the entirety of the pre-draft process.
It gave Allegri even more clarity Charlotte was where he needed to be.
“It was my one and only workout,” he said. “That’s what I mean, man, it just felt like it made sense.”
If he ends up with the G-League Greensboro Swarm, it shouldn’t take Allegri long to acclimate to the area.
“I played in North Carolina for three years. I know the Greensboro-Charlotte area,” he said. “Man, it just made sense, especially just with the organization. I know a couple guys within the organization. I just felt it was best for me.”