CHICAGO — Oh, to be a fly on the wall inside a team meeting with NBA executives at the scouting combine. One team asked Iowa State’s Monte Morris a trick math question. Another asked Kansas’ Frank Mason III how he’d like to die.
“I said, ‘In my sleep,” Mason responded, “because I wouldn’t want to suffer from any pain or anything.”
Good luck pulling a rhetorical fast one on Jarrett Allen.
Asked where he’d like to get drafted, the Texas freshman offered a pitch-perfect response: “My first goal is to make it to the NBA.”
Been practicing that one awhile? “I have, I have,” Allen said with a laugh. “I mean, I’m a Texas guy, so any team in Texas. Still not going to give you a definite answer.”
The Houston Rockets could use some help based on their performance in Game 6 against the Spurs. With no hesitation, Allen said, “There’s a team in Dallas and San Antonio.”
No reason to upset anyone with a logo and a draft pick at the InterContinental hotel. Allen will learn his destination soon enough when the NBA draft begins on June 22. A consensus first-round pick, he could land near the bottom of the top 10 or in the teens, based on projections.
That’s why Allen chose not to participate in the team game at the NBA scouting combine. Fellow UT freshman Andrew Jones, another combine invitee, did play in the game and did well. His future is undecided. The two were roommates this week and had plenty of time to talk about what comes next.
“He was a very positive, motivated guy,” said Jones, who has not signed with an agent and still may return to Austin for another season. “I think he’s going to do excellent in the league next year.”
Former Longhorns star Kevin Durant went even further last week and dismissed the combine altogether. “Stay your ass home, work out and get better on your own time,” Durant told ESPN. He’s still miffed about getting embarrassed in the weight room, apparently. But it’s all worked out for KD just fine.
Said Allen, “I just listen to what my agents say. They have the best in mind, so I’m going to trust what they say.”
Other headline players followed that advice, too. As one person close to Allen said, “If you’re waiting until the combine to prove that you’re an NBA player, it’s too late.”
Still, Allen came to Chicago, took every meeting and shook every hand possible. He admitted to being a little star-struck just seeing Clippers coach Doc Rivers. When Allen met with the American-Statesman, he had already sat down with 15 teams, regardless of their draft position.
It wasn’t like this was destined to happen, although many figured it would. Allen had only one goal last season, which was to have the best freshman year possible. By Christmas he had started thinking the draft was possible, he said.
There was no one thing that tipped the scales, he said. But Allen makes clear this was his decision alone. Texas coach Shaka Smart, who would have loved to see Allen return, wasn’t going to hold him back.
“One thing to stress is how supportive coach Smart is about my decision,” Allen said. “Even through the process when I wanted to stay or go, he wasn’t the coach who said I had to stay or go. He said, ‘Any information you need, I’m here. Whatever decision you want to choose, I’ll be 100 percent behind you.’”
Smart, like many coaches, is in a tough spot. He wants the best players but also wants what’s best for them personally. “Each guy has his own journey,” said Smart, who watched the combine as a spectator. “In sports, we tend to compare this guy to that guy. But each guy is unique, each situation is different.”
Allen is unique, that’s for sure. Just getting this dynamic 6-11 big man to open up is feat unto itself. If you didn’t know him, you’d say he was shy, maybe a tad aloof. But that’s far from accurate. He’s a private person, a creature of habit and someone who enjoys literally tearing apart and rebuilding technology.
The NBA general manager that grabs this deep thinker is getting a California-born, Texas-raised athletic supercomputer, someone who can instantly size things up and alter his behavior based on previous outputs.
If there’s any doubt, look at how Allen progressed last season. He averaged 9.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in Texas’ first 10 games. He averaged 15 points and 8.5 boards in the last 10. Allen shot almost 57 percent overall and had 51 blocks in a disappointing 11-22 season.
Along the way, he had a terrific day against Kansas with 22 points and 19 rebounds — inside Allen Fieldhouse, no less. After that game, Smart was practically giddy at how Allen was developing. He had 20 points and 11 boards in the rematch game at home against the Jayhawks. There also were 20-point games against TCU, West Virginia and Baylor.
“I would say midseason, I hit the learning curve and everything was uphill from there,” said Allen, looking relaxed in a Star Wars shirt with black sweat pants. That famous Afro of his has been scaled down, too.
“One of coach Smart’s favorite things to say is, ‘Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. If you just focus on the things you can, the things that you can’t will fall into place.’ I just took that mentality and things took off.”
Still, there are some put off by Allen’s cool demeanor. He’s not an in-your-face player, which could be a problem going up against some seriously in-your-everything NBA big men.
Any NBA general manager who questions Allen’s toughness should cue up the West Virginia game from Feb. 20. After some aggressive back and forth against Sagaba Konate, Allen went up and threw down a hellacious, one-handed jam. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla was beside himself, calling it the dunk of the year in the Big 12.
Granted, Allen needs to work on his overall strength going forward. But for a guy who doesn’t say much, that dunk was Allen’s way of saying he’s no punk.
In time, others around the NBA may be saying the same thing.
“On the floor, people say I’m a laid back guy and don’t show a lot of emotion,” Allen said. “But there’s definitely a fire in my heart when I play. I want to win all the games I can. I wouldn’t say it’s hard to show, because that’s not the right thing to say. I just have a different way of showing it.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.