Ex-Husky comfortable in crimson

SEATTLE -- He walks into Key Arena in a fleece jacket with Randall Johnson's icon Cougar head sewn into the fabric. That visual might go unnoticed on another assistant coach -- but this is Curtis Allen.

Once one of the decorated local recruits in Bob Bender's tenure at the University of Washington, Allen passed on such schools as Notre Dame and Syracuse to play for the Huskies.

The pride of Tacoma's Wilson High now wears crimson and gray.

Freshman point guard Reggie Moore said he and others within the program frequently tease Allen about his Husky lineage. Moore asked Allen before the Nov. 28 Apple Cup which team he was supporting.

"He wouldn't answer us," Moore said. "He would just laugh and kind of walk away."

That might sound evasive, but Moore has no doubt about Allen's loyalty.

"He can't be a Husky right now," he said. "He's a straight-up Coug."

The Cougs and Dawgs have exchanged a number of their own over the years. Head coaches Marv Harshman and June Daugherty are the most celebrated switch overs, switching sides mid-career. Former WSU linebackers Dick Baird and Scott Pelluer were Husky assistant coaches and Johnny Nansen is on staff there now. Going the other direction, former UW star forward Lisa Oriard was a WSU women's basketball assistant in the mid 1990s.

"It definitely was weird at first," Oriard remembers of her change to crimson. "I really didn't understand the depth of the rivalry until then. One day I came into the office wearing a pair of jeans colored dark purple. Not smart -- I took untold amounts of razzing ... On the court, though, it's all business -- and I was very proud when we beat the Huskies."

Allen, who turned 28 on Wednesday, said he has settled into Palouse life with his wife, Alissa, and infant son, Trey.

"Washington State is one of those schools you really don't understand until you get there," Allen said. "It's a great environment and the fans are awesome. We love Pullman and Washington State."

First-year WSU coach Ken Bone said he actively tried to retain former Tony Bennett assistants Ben Johnson and Ron Sanchez when he was hired in February. Johnson remained, but when Sanchez elected to follow Bennett to the University of Virginia, Bone said hiring Allen was an easy choice.

"The next guy in line in my mind was Curtis Allen," said Bone, who was familiar with Allen after serving as an assistant under Lorenzo Romar from 2002-05 at UW. "He's someone with great social skills, works hard and understands talent."

Allen, a Bremerton native who moved to Tacoma in eighth grade, seemed destined to follow Bone. After all, he was hired at Portland State in 2005 after another assistant, Yasir Rosemond, took a similar position under Ernie Kent at Oregon. Allen was an assistant at Ballard High School at the time. He began his coaching career as an assistant at University Prep during his senior year at UW in 2004-05.

"Once I realized that I wasn't going to play professionally, coaching was the next best thing," he said. "I've been extremely fortunate. He (Bone) took a chance on me at a young age and I've been able to learn from a great basketball mind."

Bone discussed at length the differences between his up-tempo style versus Bennett's more methodical approach. But Allen seems to share some job responsibilities with former Bennett assistant Matt Woodley. Their versatility is comparable to a Swiss Army Knife.

Days before WSU's 93-69 win Saturday against PSU in the Tri-Cities, Allen was tasked with finding a way to slow the Vikings' multiple outside threats. The Cougars limited PSU to 8 of 24 shooting on 3-pointers and 43.5 percent from the field.

Upon arriving in Seattle this past Monday, Allen was not reviewing game tape for Louisiana State. He was at a prospective-recruit practice.

"He's an outstanding recruiter," Bone said. "He's a man with very high character. That helps in recruiting."

Allen also has tried to utilize his connections to connect with coaches and players in the talent-rich Westside of the state. The area has featured several blue-chip talents, such as Spencer Hawes (UW), Marvin Williams (North Carolina) and Terrence Williams (Louisville), in recent years. While the Cougars have not been in the running for those recruits, they also have missed on second-tier Puget Sound recruits such as Marcelus Kemp (Nevada) and Dan Nwaelele (Air Force). Even Moore initially signed with Fresno State in 2008 before playing for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for a year.

"I think I can relate to a lot of kids from this area," Allen said. "I can kind of tell them how great it would be for them in Pullman."

With the exception of Spokane's DeAngelo Casto (2008), Moore became the school's first impact, in-state signee since Thomas Kelati (Walla Walla) in 2001. The last Westside product to make an impact arguably was Tacoma's David Adams a decade ago. Moore played at O'Dea and Rainier Beach.

"There's a lot of talent over here," Allen said. "It's also great that we got Reggie Moore from over here, and with his success, hopefully we can get more."

Bone, 51, joked that it is easier for Allen to relate to players than the "three older guys" -- himself and assistants Jeff Hironaka, 52, and Johnson, 39.

Moore calls Allen a mentor, and added that he frequently talks with him about life issues in addition to basketball.

While Johnson often was credited with the progress of former WSU center Aron Baynes during his career and continues to work with post players, Allen's focus is on the guards.

The 6-foot Allen was selected as the 2000 Washington state Class 4A player of the year by the Associated Press and averaged 25.2 points and four assists that season to help the Rams to a fifth-place finish in the state tournament. Allen's shooting prowess continued at UW, where he ranks third in 3-pointers (151) and first in free-throw percentage (86.7) in his career.

Despite that, Bone said no one should expect Allen to give players pointers on shooting.

"They think he's got a nasty shot," Bone said. "Coach Allen has changed his shot since college. It's got a little hitch in it that we all tease him about."

And then there's the rivalry.

The Cougars play against the Huskies on Jan. 30 at Edmundson Pavilion. Allen said that while it will be "fun" to play UW in Seattle, he has done it the last three seasons at PSU.

For now, he is more focused on WSU's quick start -- the Cougars improved to 10-2 with a 72-70 overtime win Tuesday against LSU -- and the future than reflecting on the past.

"Eventually I would love to be a head coach," Allen said. "But for now I'm content going at them next to Coach Bone. I hope to be with him a lot longer here at Washington State."

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