Dontaie Allen is on fire for Western Kentucky. ‘He’s got a lot of confidence right now.’
It’s been four and a half years since Dontaie Allen committed to play basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats, a move igniting hope among the UK fan base that an in-state kid staying home to play for his dream school might end up being something special.
Allen’s rocky tenure in Lexington ended in a different way. After one season spent as a redshirt and two more spent mostly on the bench, he hit the transfer portal last spring, those hopes and dreams unfulfilled.
The 6-foot-6 guard from Falmouth — the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2019 — ended up at Western Kentucky, a fresh beginning on an intriguing team. That didn’t start all that great either.
Over his first three appearances for the Hilltoppers, the 22-year-old junior averaged less than 13 minutes per game. Against WKU’s only Division I opponent in that short span (Eastern Kentucky), he played just nine minutes. And then he found himself on the bench again.
A few days into that benching, WKU Coach Rick Stansbury explained that it had nothing to do with his play at the time. It turned out Allen had played seven games for UK last spring while academically ineligible, apparently unbeknownst to anyone involved at the time. Stansbury lit into the system and lamented that Allen was having to pay for oversights that others made.
Through an open records request, the Herald-Leader obtained a highly redacted document that — without naming a specific player — matches the details of Allen’s case. The offense was listed as a “level 3 violation” — a relatively minor one — and it was noted that UK self-reported the violation after finding out that the player had competed in games when not eligible to do so. According to the document, UK found it to be “a unique and outlier situation that slipped through the safeguards in place” and that “there was minimal competitive impact” as a result of the oversight that allowed the player to play in games. (Allen played more than two minutes just once in that span.)
As a result, UK tweaked its policies in an attempt to eliminate the possibility of similar situations in the future and agreed to a fine of $3,500 — $500 for each of the seven games in which the ineligible player competed. (Allen played seven games for UK during the last spring semester.)
The Southeastern Conference and the NCAA accepted the penalty, but Allen was forced to sit out seven games for Western Kentucky.
Another bump in the road.
Allen played just eight scoreless minutes in a loss to South Carolina when he was able to return to the court Dec. 22, and his playing time over the next several games was relatively limited.
“It was hard on him, sitting those first seven games,” Stansbury said last weekend. “Those are games you get some experience. His first game he was eligible — we’re on the road at South Carolina. It’s a one-possession game, you can’t experiment. And then you go right into league play. There’s not much experimenting.”
Until last week, Allen — still struggling to find his role — hadn’t scored more than 10 points against a Division I opponent all season. That changed in a hurry.
A week and a half after the Toppers lost starting guard Luke Frampton to a season-ending knee injury, Allen stepped in and made his first start for his new team. He scored 22 points in a career-high 38 minutes. Two days later, he started again. He scored a career-high 25 points in 34 minutes. Western Kentucky won both games.
Allen was 9-for-18 from three-point range in those games and grabbed seven rebounds in each of them, much to Stansbury’s delight. On Monday, he was named the Conference USA player of the week.
“We believed in Dontaie,” Stansbury said after WKU beat UTEP on Saturday. “We didn’t get a lot of opportunities to see him on film. So we didn’t evaluate on film, because — as you well know — he just didn’t play much. But we knew — had seen him in high school — that he had more to give.”
A confident ex-Cat
Allen didn’t play much for UK. One stretch of substantial run in the middle of the Cats’ 9-16 season two years ago accounted for his only considerable and consistent playing time. But the flashes of outside shooting — mainly, two 23-point games against Mississippi State, a total of 13 threes between them — and his status as an in-state recruit piqued fan interest and led to calls for John Calipari to give him more chances.
Calipari was clearly less than impressed with his defense and attention to detail, however, and it was obvious by the end of last season that Allen didn’t have much of a future in Lexington.
He might now have found his spot in Bowling Green.
In his first press conference following Frampton’s season-ending injury, Stansbury noted that others would need to step up. Allen’s name was among the first he mentioned.
“A guy that can make shots,” is how he described the first-year Topper, but he also wanted more than that.
After Allen hit four threes in a win over UTSA on Thursday, his coach was elated.
“But what I’m most proud about him was this: I challenged him to go rebound the basketball,” Stansbury said. “And he went and got seven rebounds tonight. And that’s big.”
Two nights later, seven more rebounds.
“Again, where I’m pleased with him is he’s got some confidence in doing other things,” Stansbury said. “Defending. And rebounding.”
If he does those things, he’ll stay on the court. And if a shooter like Allen can get extended minutes, it’s much easier to find the flow of the game.
“I think it helps tremendously,” Allen said Saturday. “Because, I mean, it comes down to rhythm with the game of basketball. If you’re not in too long, you can’t get into a rhythm. So, I’ve just got in a rhythm, and I feel good about it.”
Playing limited minutes until last week, Allen was shooting 31 percent from long range on the season before going 9-for-18 with that extended run over the past two games. Playing sparingly for Kentucky last season, he was just a 19 percent three-point shooter.
Stansbury said he knew Allen was “a very capable” shooter despite those stats. He said getting consistent playing time leads to getting comfortable. And doing other things tends to lessen the pressure offensively.
“If you’ll go rebound, defend — you’ll be amazed how that clears your mind making threes,” he said. “If you play only thinking about making shots, then when you miss one, you can get those cobwebs in your mind.”
Whether this continues will soon be apparent. Allen’s two big games came against two of the league’s worst teams — UTSA sits last in the C-USA standings, while UTEP is tied for the second-worst record — and a tougher test against third-place Middle Tennessee will come Thursday night.
Allen said after Saturday’s game that he’s loving “the vibe” in Bowling Green, even as WKU (13-11, 5-8 in C-USA) isn’t having the season it expected so far.
“All the people, all the positive interactions. Even when we were going through a drought, everybody was being positive. Even though it was a bad time,” Allen said. “So I think that’s the biggest thing I really appreciate about it.”
For Allen, greater opportunities might bring greater performances.
“We need him to make shots. And he’s got a lot of confidence right now,” Stansbury said. “... Remember this: He hasn’t played. He just hasn’t played now. Even though he’s a fourth-year player. Redshirted a year. Two other years — just didn’t play. So every minute he can play now, he’s gonna gain experience from it. And when you can play good, you gain not just experience, you gain confidence.
“And there’s no question — I’d think he’d be a pretty confident guy right now.”
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