Southern Auto

Feature on Former Coach Sonny Allen

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: November 08, 2010
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Nov. 8, 2010

Nov. 6, 2010 A visit with 'The Brat' By Frank Giardina The Charleston Gazette

HAD THE opportunity to visit last week with one of our state's most memorable basketball players and coaches, Sonny Allen.

Allen, a Moundsville native, was a high school star in the 1950s. He went to work rather than going to college right away but eventually was offered a walk-on opportunity at Marshall by coach Jule Rivlin. He became the starting point guard and a star for the Herd from 1956-60.

Allen was undersized, but he was feisty, thus earning the nickname "The Brat." He became one of more popular players in Marshall history.

During his time in Huntington, Allen played with some of the Herd's all-time great players, many of whom hailed from southern West Virginia. Among his teammates were Cebe Price and Paul Underwood from South Charleston, Hal Greer from Douglass High School in Huntington and Leo Byrd from Huntington High.

In 1958, Allen was the triggerman on a fast-breaking Marshall team that led the nation in scoring by averaging an eye-popping 88 points.

"I can't say enough about my experience at Marshall," Allen said last week. "I came to Huntington as a walk-on and ended up on scholarship and playing with some incredible players. Leo Byrd was the greatest shooter I have ever been around. He and Jerry West were superstar high school and college players in the '50s. Jerry was a better athlete and rebounder, but I really believe Leo was a better shooter than Jerry."

After his playing career, Allen stayed at Marshall and coached the freshman team for Ellis Johnson from 1960-65. During that time, he recruited former Mullens point guard Danny D'Antoni, whose game was similar to Allen's.

"Initially Ellis thought Danny was too small," recalled Allen. "But I convinced him that we should recruit him. He started for us as a sophomore at point guard and led the school to one of the great eras in Marshall history."

I HAD THE opportunity to visit last week with one of our state's most memorable basketball players and coaches, Sonny Allen. Allen, a Moundsville native, was a high school star in the 1950s. He went to work rather than going to college right away but eventually was offered a walk-on opportunity at Marshall by coach Jule Rivlin. He became the starting point guard and a star for the Herd from 1956-60.

Allen was undersized, but he was feisty, thus earning the nickname "The Brat." He became one of more popular players in Marshall history.

During his time in Huntington, Allen played with some of the Herd's all-time great players, many of whom hailed from southern West Virginia. Among his teammates were Cebe Price and Paul Underwood from South Charleston, Hal Greer from Douglass High School in Huntington and Leo Byrd from Huntington High.

In 1958, Allen was the triggerman on a fast-breaking Marshall team that led the nation in scoring by averaging an eye-popping 88 points.

"I can't say enough about my experience at Marshall," Allen said last week. "I came to Huntington as a walk-on and ended up on scholarship and playing with some incredible players. Leo Byrd was the greatest shooter I have ever been around. He and Jerry West were superstar high school and college players in the '50s. Jerry was a better athlete and rebounder, but I really believe Leo was a better shooter than Jerry."

After his playing career, Allen stayed at Marshall and coached the freshman team for Ellis Johnson from 1960-65. During that time, he recruited former Mullens point guard Danny D'Antoni, whose game was similar to Allen's.

"Initially Ellis thought Danny was too small," recalled Allen. "But I convinced him that we should recruit him. He started for us as a sophomore at point guard and led the school to one of the great eras in Marshall history."

Allen left the state in 1965 to become coach at Old Dominion and led the Monarchs to a Division II national title in 1975. He then took the head-coaching job at SMU. In 1980 he left the Mustangs for Nevada-Reno, where he coached from 1980-87. On his staff at Old Dominion were Charlie Woollum, who became the head coach at Bucknell and Old Dominion, and Steve Cottrell, who became the head coach at Western Carolina.

In his time at Old Dominion, Allen was known for recruiting West Virginia players. The first was Arthur "Buttons" Speakes, a great multi-sport athlete at Huntington High. He later recruited Skip Noble from St. Albans, Rick Nau from Wheeling Central, Joey Caruthers from DuPont, Wendell Morrison from St. Albans and Bill Herscher from St. Albans.

"Buttons was the guy that started our West Virginia pipeline," Allen said. "There were bigger schools such as Ohio State and others that were recruiting him for football, but I knew he really preferred to play basketball, so we got him at Old Dominion.

"Joey [Caruthers] was a great point guard for our fast-break system and could have been the MVP of the national tournament in 1975. I had coached Dave Twardzik, who was a guard for the Portland Trail Blazers when they won the NBA title in 1977. I think if I had stayed at Old Dominion and kept our system in place for Joey's last two years, he might have had a chance to also play professionally."

Our state has produced bigger names in basketball than Allen, but "The Brat" had an outstanding career as a player and coach. More important, he provided playing opportunities for many youngsters from our state. His contribution to our state's basketball legacy should not be forgotten.

Reach Frank Giardina at fl...@hotmail.com.

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