After three knee surgeries and a forced retirement from basketball while at the University of Florida, Rollins forward Adam Allen ’14MAC decided to finish his illustrious career how he wants.
(Photo by Scott Cook) On his first day at Rollins College last year, Adam Allen visited the athletic trainers.
His previous four years had been filled with rehabbing three knee surgeries at the University of Florida, one forced retirement from basketball, and a realization he wanted to play again. But after seeing an MRI and his medical files, the trainers asked why he wanted to keep pounding his injured left knee.
To play, he’d have to suffer constant knee pain and hours of icing the joint, buy bottle after bottle of ibuprofen and limp across campus the next day if he played too many minutes the night before.
Worse, still, would be the mental struggle. If his shot felt off or he wanted to work on something else, he couldn’t do much because he needed to rest for games, a cruel Catch-22.
But the 6-foot-8, 222-pound small forward had a good answer for why he wanted to play.
“Because I’m crazy,” Allen recalls saying. “I love this game. I still find a way to put the ball in the bucket every now and then. I know as long as I can play, I’m going to do it.”
So began his comeback.
“In the blink of an eye … over”
Years earlier, Allen’s basketball future seemed bright.
He finished runner-up his senior year for the Florida Mr. Basketball award in 2007. Since 2000, 11 players have won and six became NBA draft picks. The scouting service Rivals ranked Allen the 66th-best prospect in the country and No. 16 at his position.
If everything went well, Allen had a chance to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA, just like his father, Randy Allen. The elder Allen played two seasons for the Sacramento Kings as a 6-foot-8, 220-pound shooting guard.
“As a child, I wanted to be like him,” Adam Allen says. “I was running around in his basketball shoes.”
Allen averaged 4.0 points per game his freshman year with the Gators, competing with current Houston Rocket Chandler Parsons—whose father Gary Parsons ’77 played at Rollins—for playing time. Allen went into the offseason motivated to improve and earn more minutes.
“All the other recruits were higher [ranked] than me,” he says. “That’s why I took the mindset I’m going to outwork these guys. Going into that next season, I was a lot better prepared and understood what I needed to do to be successful at that level.”
But then teammate Erving Walker ran into Allen’s left knee while Allen was trying to rebound his own missed free throw during a scrimmage. The trainers diagnosed a bone bruise and an MCL sprain, minor injuries that would require two or three weeks to recover.
When the pain didn’t disappear after six weeks, he underwent an exploratory surgery. Allen, who would redshirt his sophomore season, described himself afterward as just 80 percent of what he had been.
But his knee wasn’t moving properly, swaying side to side rather than up and down. An MRI led doctors to perform a surgery called medial reefing, which tightens the tissue on the inside of the knee.
After a year—four months longer than the top estimate for recovery—and his junior season approaching, Allen couldn’t jog, much less run, without a limp. He felt about 30 percent of what he had been.
Out of answers, the trainers asked to speak with him. The news wouldn’t be good, but he still described himself as dumbfounded when they told him his career was finished.
“Everything I worked for my whole life, in the blink of an eye, was over,” Allen says.
Finding a way to move on
Allen says he spiraled into depression, drank and partied more often, and disengaged from teammates. He broke up with his girlfriend. Bad luck had stolen something he loved and invested years of hard work in. His dream of professional basketball, following in his father’s footsteps, was gone.
“I turned to some other things I’m not proud of,” Allen says. “I was just not living like I should, like I was raised to live. I took my frustrations out on other things.
“I never let anybody see I was disturbed by what happened. It was definitely a dark period in my life.”
Added Allen’s former teammate at Florida and current Tars graduate assistant coach Kyle McClanahan: “He didn’t have the same energy and liveliness like he normally did. He’s normally always upbeat and energetic, but at that time, he was more reserved.”
The depression lasted for the fall 2009 semester but broke when, Allen says, he gained strength to handle his situation after praying more. He became engaged with his teammates after Gators coach Billy Donovan used him on the scout team and asked him questions when the team watched video.
“It happens to so many athletes,” Allen says. “Just because I’m another statistic doesn’t mean I have to let it impact my life in a negative way.”
Allen underwent a third surgery, a complicated one that involved cutting part of his shin. It was meant to improve his quality of life, not help him play again.
But Donovan inserted Allen to dribble out the final seconds of a blowout senior night win in 2011. The victory clinched the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, earning him a championship ring.
Allen graduated a few months later and went home to Milton, Florida, to work at his father’s company. He also became certified to sell life insurance but realized he didn’t want to do it either.
He played pick-up basketball occasionally and trained his younger brother.
“I had given up on the game and given up being a player,” Allen said. “I put basketball behind me.”
A perfect opportunity
Basketball, however, wasn’t done with him.
One weekend last June, former Rollins guard Alex Castillo ’11 ’12MBA and senior forward for UF Chandler Parsons, who are friends from high school, went to Gainesville to play pick-up basketball. Allen happened to be there.
Impressed with Allen’s play with a fully rested knee, Castillo told him he should use his final two years of eligibility to earn his master’s degree at Rollins. Normally, athletes have just five years to use their four years of eligibility, but Allen could still play because of his dramatic injury history.
Castillo sold Allen on the Tars’ slow-paced Princeton offense, which doesn’t require much running, and that practice was filled with standstill shooting drills. If he wanted to try, the Tars’ style of play would give him the best chance of coming back.
Allen relented, squeezing into Castillo’s Xterra for the two-hour ride to Winter Park.
“I pretty much did all the recruiting,” Castillo says.
Allen admits to being indifferent about the idea at first. He wasn’t sure whether Rollins coach Tom Klusman ’76 ’78MBA would let him play if Allen couldn’t practice, how much he could help or if he could handle the knee pain. But Allen wanted the chance to play again.
“That was pretty much it,” Klusman says. “I want kids who want to play. I figured Billy knows what he’s doing up there. If he played for Billy, he’s pretty good.”
Somehow, Klusman still had scholarship money to offer. Allen took the GRE and applied that summer. He would play the 2012-13 season three years after his career supposedly ended and pursue a Master of Human Resources at the Hamilton Holt School.
“How things fell in line,” Klusman says, “it was meant to happen that Adam comes here.”
Embracing the end
The first part of his comeback didn’t end well.
Yes, last year Allen averaged 9.6 points, third on the team, and 20.7 minutes, which was sixth. But he pushed his knee too hard during the regular season and was limited to just 11 minutes in the Sunshine State Conference tournament and one point in the Tars’ six-point NCAA tournament loss.
Feeling Allen was putting too much pressure on himself, Klusman told him to relax.
“Any time you have that many operations, you’re thinking, ‘Is this kid done?’” Klusman says. “I said, ‘Listen, you just getting out here has been unbelievable. Just coming back, you’re a hero. Let’s enjoy being back on a team and being part of a plan. Whatever happens, let’s have fun doing it.’”
This season has been different for Allen, who had a career-high 21 points against Saint Leo on December 4 and is second with 12.0 points per game. Klusman rotates Allen from the game to the bench every four minutes, a challenge in a sport where scoring runs, both good and bad, are common.
“We’re not in this for this game or next week,” Klusman says. “I want him to play in March.”
Adds McClanahan: “If he could compete every day, he would be unstoppable. It’s hard on us to see him sitting there and knowing skill-wise he’s the best player out there, but he can’t compete every day like he wants to. He knows his body and what he can and can’t do.”
Allen describes himself as 70 percent of his former self on good days and 50 percent on bad. But there are spurts where Klusman sees the player Allen once was.
“There are things he does where we go, ‘Holy cow,’” Klusman says. “He must’ve been just an unbelievable talent.”
Allen, though, is too busy enjoying his final year of college basketball, his final chance to be a part of a team, to worry about the past. But it’s sometimes brought up. Gator fans occasionally recognize him, whether it’s on campus or while walking through Orlando.
“It’s always nice to hear people are still following me,” Allen says. “I don’t expect it because I’m not near as good as I used to be. Any time anybody says they recognize me, I go out of my way to make them feel appreciated.”
He’s matured with everything that’s happened. If he played poorly in a loss last year, he said, he would’ve kicked a trash can; this season, he moves on.
And he doesn’t begrudge former Gators Nick Calathes, who beat him for Mr. Basketball in 2007, and Parsons, whose playing time came at Allen’s expense. Instead, he follows both of their NBA careers.
He’s happy with his opportunity at Rollins—not because he wants to prove to others he’s a good basketball player but because he wants to prove to himself he can still play.
“I’m still the same competitor I was, edgy, locked in,” Allen says. “[I wanted to] go out on my own terms, not ending my career like I did at UF. At Rollins, it has been great for me. It ended up being one of the best things to happen to me.”