As OPRF boys basketball coach Al Allen walked off the court following Friday’s 78-68 victory over conference opponent Hinsdale Central, the Huskies’ band played a rousing rendition of Paul Simon’s feel-good ballad “You Can Call Me Al.” After more than 20 years in coaching, however, Allen’s name is far from anonymous.
Allen elevated his legacy once again on Friday night by registering his 400th career victory, 337 of which have come during his 19-year tenure at the helm of the Huskies.
“It’s my coaching staff’s and player’s 400th win,” Allen said. “I had some part to do with it, but not all.”
Allen credited his success to the selfless attitude that has been exuded by people who have been involved with the Oak Park program for the past 19 years.
“You can’t win games if you don’t have guys who are willing to help you build a program,” he said. “I have been very fortunate that guys have buried their ego and said ‘what do you want done’ and ‘I’ll do it your way.’ I’ve had (coaches) who have lost games on the lower level to make us stronger as a program.”
Allen wasn’t the only legendary coach in the field house that evening. Bo Ryan, the coach of the nationally ranked Wisconsin Badgers, was in attendance scouting OPRF guard Iman Shumpert. And, while Shumpert played well by scoring 15 points, the Huskies showed Ryan and the rest of the crowd they were more than a one horse team.
In fact, Allen has a virtual stable stocked with thoroughbreds. Five different OPRF players scored in double figures. In addition to Shumpert, the Huskies were led by Jamis Nelson (18 points), Daniel Barnes (17 points), Phil Gary (13 points) and Lamont Sanders (11 points).
“That is the way we believe in it,” Allen said. “Right now we have five players who are close to 10 points a game. We are a family and nobody cares who scores.”
Early in the contest, the Huskies received a lift from Nelson, whose 12 first-half points caught the Red Devils off guard. Defensively, Nelson did a nice job on 6-foot-7 center Blake Saunders. Of Saunders’ 20 points, only four came in the first half. Phil Gary’s acrobatic lay-up in the closing seconds of the first half gave OPRF a 33-22 halftime lead.
“I think they were a little surprised at the unsung hero of this team. Jamis Nelson went out there and got unexpected points,” Allen said. “Not just one or two, but I think eight or 10. He really just went out there and created a problem for them.”
A 12-0 OPRF run midway through the third quarter gave the Huskies what seemed to be an insurmountable 47-28 lead. OPRF expanded that margin to 22 points early in the fourth quarter, but the game was far from over at that point.
The clutch shooting of Hinsdale Central’s wing players, led by 17 points from Chris Chana, allowed them to cut the lead to single digits in the game’s closing minutes. In the end, OPRF managed to thwart the Red Devils’ comeback effort by connecting on 16 of 21 fourth quarter free throws.
While the win tied OPRF with Proviso West at first place in the West Suburban (Silver) Conference, Allen said he was very disappointed in his team’s play on the defensive end, especially in the fourth quarter when they gave up 37 points.
“At the beginning of the game, we were lucky they were missing shots,” he said. “And as you can see in the second half they didn’t miss any of their shots. I just got very lucky and after all these games sometimes you do have to get lucky and have kids step up and create problems for them.”
The Huskies travel to Hillside to take on Proviso West on Friday (6:30 p.m.).