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June 23, 2014

Allen anxious to turn around Tech's basketball fortunes

By: Jimmy Robertson

Someone who carries around two cell phones – smart phones, no less – must be a person of utmost importance, or certainly a celebrity of some sorts.

“Nah,” Seth Allen said, with a smile. “I use one just for music.”

Those in tune with Tech athletics know Seth Allen, even though he is a relative newcomer to Blacksburg. Those Tech fans unfamiliar with the name will learn that he is, indeed, an important figure, regardless of the number of phones he carries.

Allen transferred to Tech from the University of Maryland in May, and he gives new men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams a critical tool to use in the rebuilding of the foundation of Virginia Tech basketball. In fact, from this perspective, the Woodbridge, Virginia, native is the most critical of the seven newcomers who will be on Tech’s roster this upcoming season.

Yes, he must sit out this season per NCAA transfer guidelines, but this is a long-term rebuilding project. In Allen, Williams gets a guy who has played in the ACC and a guy who scored in double figures while playing for an ACC school – and he gets him for two years after this one. A point guard, Allen averaged 13.4 points and three assists per game as a sophomore last season. None of those other newcomers bring those types of credentials.

This is what AD Whit Babcock envisioned when he hired Williams as the coach – a person with the ability to bring in top-notch talent and turn around Tech’s basketball fortunes. Rest assured, Tech doesn’t get a player like Allen without a coach like Williams. Allen visited Virginia and had visits set up at 2014 NCAA Tournament participants NC State, Baylor, Cincinnati and Arizona. After his visit to Tech, he cancelled all the others.

“I never really considered Virginia Tech until Buzz got the job, and then I started building a relationship with Buzz early and talking to him,” Allen said. “I came here on a visit and liked everything I saw. I could see this program changing for the better, and it’s already changed in the 80 days he’s been here. I see a bright future here.”

He apparently didn’t see such a future at Maryland, even though he played 30 minutes a game. The Terps, who beat the Hokies twice (Allen scored 16 points and had seven assists in the win at Cassell Coliseum on Feb. 1), featured a good, but somewhat underachieving, team. He refused to get into what transpired at Maryland, preferring to take the high road.

“It [his decision] was bigger than basketball for me,” he said.

Allen arrived in Blacksburg for the first summer session. His transition has gone smoothly, especially considering College Park and Blacksburg are about as far apart as it gets in terms of college environments. He takes summer school classes and works out with his teammates. He does wear a protective boot, a precaution after breaking a bone in his foot and missing 12 games this past season.

The upcoming year off figures to be torturous for someone used to being on the court all the time. But it gives him a chance to get stronger and also to make sure the foot heals properly.

“It’s going to be difficult, but at the end, it works out,” Allen said of sitting out the season. “I’m only 19 [years old], and I’m a junior, so this [sitting out] will allow me to be in the grade I’m supposed to be in, and it will allow me to get healthy and learn a lot from Buzz and the other coaches. It’ll be tough sitting on the sidelines, but I’m still going to be playing the game mentally. I’m not going to sit out mentally.”

Allen at the least makes the Hokies better in practice this fall, and he also provides leadership. He gives returning players like Devin Wilson, Malik Mueller and Ben Emelogu a person to go to during difficult times.

The Hokies may suffer some of those times this season, as the newcomers adjust to college basketball and the returners adjust to Williams’ style. Allen refuses to buy into that, though. He thinks the team could be good, especially later in the year.

That may be true. But this is a program with three straight last-place finishes in the ACC. So fans approach such predictions with cautious optimism. The 2015-16 season seems a safer bet, considering that at that point, Allen becomes eligible to play.

But that confidence, in addition to his talent, is what this program needs. It’s hard not to like and respect a player willing to transfer to a struggling program.

“I want to be a part of the team that changes it and turns it around,” he said.

Suffice it to say, he’s just the type of player to lead that effort.