IF YOU WATCH
Who: No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 Connecticut
When: Thursday, 9:20 p.m.
Where: Louisville, Ky.
Two years ago, Chris Allen led Michigan State to the NCAA men's basketball Final Four.
Allen had a turbulent relationship with head coach Tom Izzo and left the Spartans in 2010.
He transferred to Iowa State, where he had to sit out last season. Now the former Meadowcreek standout is hoping for one last tournament push.
No. 8 seed Iowa State is in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005 and the Cyclones (22-10) will face defending national champion and No. 9 seed Connecticut (20-13) on Thursday in the South Regional in Louisville. The game will match Allen up against another Gwinnett grad, Norcross' Jeremy Lamb, a sophomore for the Huskies.
"It feels great to be back," Allen said. "I had a lot of success at Michigan State going to Final Fours and national championships. Why not do the same thing here?"
Allen has brought his winning ways to Iowa State, helping revive a program that has missed the NCAA tournament the last six years. He is one of three Division I transfers for the Cyclones. Royce White was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year after formerly playing at Minnesota and Chris Babb played at Penn State two years ago.
The 6-foot-3 Allen has started every game this season and is the team's third leading scorer, averaging 11.8 points a game. He's second on the team in assists with 2.4 a game. He scored a season-high 25 points in the Cyclones win over Texas A&M last month.
"I feel like I've been a glue guy. Whenever things go bad, I try to fill in the void," Allen said. "Collectively, I've had a lot of good games with points, assists and steals and it's not just one aspect of the game."
Allen played three seasons at Michigan State, helping the Spartans the NCAA tournament every year. Michigan State lost in the national championship game Allen's sophomore year and returned to the Final Four his junior season. However, that 2009-10 season was a rocky one for Allen with Izzo. Allen was suspended prior to the Big 10 Tournament for violating team rules. He was released from the team in August. Allen enrolled at Iowa State in August of 2010 and had to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. He plans to graduate this spring with a degree in Liberal Studies.
"I know it made me hungrier and not to take anything for granted," Allen said of sitting out a year. "It made me sit back and grow up. It helped me become a man. There's definitely no regrets. What happened is what happened. I have to keep moving forward."
Allen's perseverance has brought him and Iowa State back to the NCAA tournament. Although this year's trip is a little different for Allen, who is used to competing for national titles.
"It definitely is a different feel," Allen said. "I think it shows a lot about this team and myself. Just being a winner and working hard."
Allen hopes his experience in the NCAA tournament will rub off on his teammates, who have never experienced March Madness in person.
"Hopefully, they'll see how I approach the game and do the same thing," Allen said. "If I was around someone that had been to two Final Fours, I would do the same thing as them."
Allen was a 2007 grad from Meadowcreek, earning all-county honors along with Norcross' Gani Lawal and Al-Farouq Aminu. Lawal and Aminu were drafted by the NBA and Allen hopes his basketball career doesn't end with the NCAA tournament.
"I definitely want to play basketball as long as I can," Allen said.