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By Brad Spencer
Former OPRF head boys basketball coach Al Allen, who this season came out of retirement after three years to be an assistant coach under Matt Maloney, has returned to the team in a limited capacity after suffering a mild stroke last month.
Allen, 59, who coached the Huskies for 21 years and finished with a career record of 364-193, came down with a severe bout of pneumonia after the team returned from the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in late December. On Jan. 8, Allen was taken by ambulance to West Suburban Medical Center, where he suffered a mild stroke. The coach spent two weeks in rehab at HRC ManorCare Health Services in Hinsdale, learning to stand and walk again.
"The stroke had wiped out my sense of balance and equilibrium and I suffered some visual impairment as well," Allen said. "I could not even sit without falling over."
Allen said he was lucky the stroke didn't do more damage to his brain. He went from walking with a walker and then a cane, and now uses the cane only for balance.
"It's all about retraining my mind," said Allen, who has handled the defense for Maloney this season. "I'm feeling very confident now that I can do the things I couldn't do a few weeks ago. Fatigue is my biggest problem right now, and the fact that I don't want to miss any practices or games."
Allen was also diagnosed with several blood clots in his right lung that likely played a major role in the stroke. He was back at practice for the first time earlier this week, but admits it's been difficult to stay away.
"All my life I have said I can't miss practice, but now I have to let that mentality go," he said. "That's how it has to be. It's a new game I am playing now."
Allen was on the bench for Friday night's game at OPRF against Proviso West and Saturday's game at Lyons Township. The Huskies suffered losses in both games.
Support from the team and his fellow coaches has helped him to a quick recovery, he said. "I have former coaches picking me up and driving me places and some going grocery shopping for me. The support has been unbelievable."
Allen received a call from his players the first night he was in the hospital on Jan. 8. "They called me from the locker room after their game, screaming and hollering," he said of the Huskies, who had downed Proviso West 73-66 that night.
Maloney has taken over Allen's duties directing the defense, while still coaching the offense. Along with varsity assistant coach Dennis Keizer, sophomore coach Max Sakellaris currently splits time coaching at the varsity level.
"We want Al back to his old self again as soon as possible, but his health comes first right now," said Maloney, who visited Allen, his former coach, in the hospital nearly every day and supplied him with game tapes to watch during his rehab. "Al's a huge part of this program. His experience and knowledge are so important to our success."