Ray Allen is officially hanging it up. That might surprise some, as the former Connecticut Huskies star and future Hall of Fame player hasn’t exactly been playing a lot of professional basketball as of late. Even if it was assumed he wouldn’t play again before his announcement, any excuse to discuss his collegiate excellence is welcome.
That’s all this is, too. Allen is retiring from the NBA. He hasn’t stepped foot on an amateur hardwood — to play basketball, at least — since 1996. But, honestly, who cares about those semantics? There’s a large section of the population that’s unaware of Allen’s crazy-stupid-good collegiate exploits.
Allen was a member of one of the most fun eras of the Big East. Allen Iverson, Kerry Kittles, Felipe López, John Wallace, and so many others carried the torch for the league in, and around, the same time. For many people — uh, folks my age (33) — it was truly a place in space and time when must-see television was synonymous with Big East basketball.
Like a Juan Dixon or anyone else from my youth, it is noting that over a period of time players get romanticized in one’s own head. Please keep that in mind as we are about to jump on a hyperbolic train that has no stops, needs no fuel, and cares not for the rhetoric that will be the debate of if he’s the greatest shooter to have ever lived.
After all, Walter Ray Allen Jr. — very obviously — is. Oh, and don’t forget that he was a pretty absurd athlete, too.
Ray Allen helps Huskies return to form as a freshman
When Allen came to UConn in 1993, Jim Calhoun’s program was coming off a relatively disappointing season. The season prior to Allen’s arrival, the Huskies went 15-13, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1989.
Also, UConn was a really good program at the time, but not yet the one that became a blue-blood type that regularly demanded a national platform.
As a freshman, the Huskies were not yet Allen’s team. Those honors belonged to Donyell Marshall. It was an entire team effort, with Allen’s 13-5-2 box-score playing a big role, and it was good enough for the Huskies to win the regular season Big East crown, having earned a second-seed in the Big Dance, and set the stage for his breakout performances in March.
Despite coming off the bench, Allen was second on the team in points per game during the NCAA Tournament, helping UConn reach the Sweet 16. Having history to now help us, this season was one of the few early Calhoun ones that did help set up the program to become that blue-blood we think of it today.
While not a singular moment, it is one incredibly important for the purposes of context. Marshall left early for the pros after the season, and with UConn now a name-brand program thanks to all involved, more eyes were fixated on the then-bubbling superstar.
Ray Allen vs Allen Iverson Big East Championship Game (1996)
Friend of the site, and wonderful features writer, Aaron Torres wrote an incredibly well-worth-your-time deep dive of this game for Fox Sports. For insane detail of the game, you should give that a read.
For a simplified summary of what this game was, and what it meant at the time: Iverson was very much a big deal way back then. Even before becoming the anti-establishment hero in the NBA. In fact, Georgetown as still very much Hoya Paranoia at this point, and some people remained reeling from John Thompson’s approach to the sport.
There was a national debate at the time about which “Allen” was actually better. Not necessarily in terms of who would be a better pro, though that was happening as well, but as to which of the two — now national — superstars would help their programs in March.
Not to mention both players were members of Team USA that competed at the World University Games in Japan over the previous summer. That squad featured both Allens, as well as Tim Duncan, and they went on to win the gold. However, it was the rumors of a rivalry between Ray and Iverson that had Big East fans salivating at the mouth.
Depending on which side of the fandom-fence you were on, Ray Allen hitting his jumper in the closing seconds (which turned out to be the game-winner) while Allen Iverson missed his attempt, was either the moment of the season or the biggest heartbreak of the year.
While his impact on college basketball is far more than this (more on that in a second), the Allen vs Allen game is likely what most people remember him for. For good reason too, as the insane hype that led up to this game was that greater than the coverage even today’s 24/7 sports media provides for events.
Ray Allen’s Legacy
This is less a moment, and more of what impact he made while at UConn and how it positively altered the trajectory of the program for years to come.
Most people — rightfully — credit UConn’s rise to national relevance to Calhoun. But those Huskies teams led by Allen, in which he led them to at least the Sweet 16 in his three seasons, set the stage for the national championship the program would win in 1999.
Credit to Calhoun for parlaying his initial success helped earned with Marshall to land Allen, then letting the latter’s success beget itself, but Allen winning the 1996 Big East Player of the Year and firmly embedding the program as a staple of college basketball on TV (which was a big deal back then), who knows if a Rip Hamilton or a Khalid El-Amin (who transferred to UConn) would have ever went to Storrs.