A year ago around this time, Pendleton County’s Dontaie Allen was getting offers at the mid-major Universities and had people wondering around the area when the big schools would come calling.
What a difference a year makes.
After a summer “blow up” on the AAU circuit that included a week down in Georgia at the UAA Invitational, Allen was picking up offers left and right…Florida, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma, Pitt, Iowa State, Illinois, then Auburn, Saint Louis and then things started to get serious when in-state power Louisville and coach Chris Mack came with an offer.
But one school was still missing. The one Allen long yearned an offer for. Kentucky. The ‘Cats. BBN. Not that UK wasn’t interested, assistant Joel Justus had been recruiting Allen all along, bringing him in for a visit in June. Head coach John Calipari flew in to see Allen in Georgia and then again in Louisville later on in July.
The final look from Coach Cal may have been the icing on the cake. Allen showed out in front of the Wildcats’ coach, displaying his full arsenal, knocking down 3-pointers and driving to the paint at will.
That followed with an official visit on Wednesday to Lexington for Allen and his family, including Tony Thomas, Allen’s father who played football and basketball at Mason County, checking out the team’s practice and meeting with Calipari and the staff before the Wildcats head to the Bahamas next week.
“Everything was quiet for about 20 hours after that,” Keaton Belcher said, Allen’s coach at Pendleton County, awaiting the official offer.
“Then he called me today (Friday) and said I’m committing to UK. I asked how he was going to do it and he said he was going to tweet it out at 2 o’clock and not to tell anyone. So Dontaie tweeted it out and all 15,000 people in Pendleton County were very, very excited.”
Allen basically accepted the offer on the spot, playing for the school he grew up liking and dreaming to play for.
These types of recruiting stories don’t happen too often. Kentucky, an obvious blue blood program usually gets to hand pick the recruits they want and get, often top 20 players in the country. Allen wasn’t even on the radar a year ago. Not in the top 150 nationally across the scouting services for the Class of ’19 and no blue blood offers. He skyrocketed into the top 50 nationally after the UAA event in early July.
“I think the biggest reason for Dontaie’s success is he just outworked everyone else,” Belcher said. “Every day he thinks or works on his game, thinking about his weaknesses and enhancing his strengths. Most kids his age want to play video games, party, chase girls…he spends his time in the gym.”
Sometimes it’s hard in rural Kentucky, a town like Falmouth or a school like Pendleton County to get noticed. Allen could have transferred, maybe up to a bigger school in Northern Kentucky to get more notoriety. But he remained loyal to his hometown, a town that adores him. In a day where the transfer scene is rampant, whether high school or college, Allen stayed put and it paid off.
As a junior, Allen scored 1,019 points (yes in one season), averaged 11.4 rebounds while getting teammates involved and shooting at a high percentage (59 percent from the field, nearly 40 percent from three and 80 percent at the line), putting up LeBron James type numbers, as Belcher stated to the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Josh Moore in an interview on Thursday.
The AAU recognition definitely helped, playing for the M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs this year under Steve Quattrocchi. Quattrocchi had Allen when he was playing with the 15-and-under group with Hoop Dreams and then again this year. Quattrocchi was always aware of his talent, but this summer he put the complete package together.
“The work he puts in and he was able to show it on a bigger stage. Dontaie works his butt off and made the most of it,” Quattrocchi said. “He’s a great isolation scorer, that’s his big trait. He can score on about anybody, he’s improved his shooting throughout his high school career, he’s at 40% and higher shooting from three. I’d put him up there as one of the top outside scorers in the country.”
Quattrocchi is surrounded by top level players with his program annually and he’s never seen anything quite like this in terms of his recruitment or a player like Allen.
“I’m not sure if I’ve coached someone quite like him. Eli Wright and Aric Holman (both from Owensboro) had big blow ups, but nothing like Cal flying in to see them,” Quattrocchi said, who expects Allen to see the floor early on in Lexington. “He’ll find his way on the floor earlier than some may expect him to. Especially with the way he scores.”
The one weakness that some may have pointed to is Allen’s defense, but with his length it can offset times when he’s guarding elite wing players.
“Defensively he’s come the farthest. He’s never been a bad defender and he understands in order to play quality minutes in the SEC, he has to keep improving defensively,” Belcher said. “His lateral quickness has enhanced a lot.”
“He’s super long, it’s not like he’s unathletic, he just isn’t an elite athlete. There’s a big difference there. He knows how to use angles, push the ball, that kind of stuff,” Quattrocchi added.
Now that the weight is off his shoulders and a verbal commitment has been made, Allen can now get back to doing what he always does, hone his craft in the gym, continue to outwork others and keep improving. The next matter of business will be to try to lead a Pendleton County squad to the place where he’ll be playing his college basketball, Rupp Arena for the KHSAA state tournament, something Pendleton County hasn’t done since 2005.
Things will change now quite a bit for the Wildcats, the Pendleton County ones for the 2018-19 season. They usually don’t have a tough time filling the stands for home games in Falmouth, but road games may now also have quite a few more fans in the stands to check out Kentucky’s newest recruit, the first in-state recruit since 2013 when Dominique Hawkins (Madison Central) and Derek Willis (Bullitt East) both came to Lexington with offers.
“We’ll definitely have to talk a lot about it as a team and not letting outside distractions effect our play and our team,” Belcher said. “More people in the crowd, TV stations, radio stations then we are used to. That doesn’t change that there’s 32 minutes in a high school basketball game so that will be my approach.”
Allen becomes the fourth Pendleton County player to go Division I, following Belcher (Belmont), Talbert Turner (Morehead State) and Bobby Lee Wyatt (Louisiana Tech).
“I just think it gives the people from Pendleton County something to be proud about. We’re a rural community. For us to have a hometown kid, play for basically everybody’s favorite school in the county is pretty remarkable,” Belcher said. “Dontaie is not just going to UK, we’re all going with him.”
Basketball fans around the coverage area will also have plenty of chances to catch Allen while they play their respective team, Pendleton plays Bracken County twice in a home and home (Dec. 8 and Feb. 1), Augusta in Falmouth (Dec. 10), Robertson County in Mount Olivet (Dec. 12), St. Patrick in Falmouth (Jan. 15) and Mason County twice in Falmouth, the first game being part of the inaugural 2A Classic (Jan. 7 and Jan. 19).