Cynthia Allman began a long day’s journey into a blissful night at 4 a.m. in New York on Saturday, when she arrived at the airport to catch a flight to see her son play in the Big West Conference tournament.
“The flight was canceled and rescheduled for 8 a.m.,” Allman said. “Then it was 8:30 a.m. and then 11 a.m. So I took a bus to another airport and caught a flight to Chicago and was able to make a connection to Santa Ana. I got in at 7:30 p.m. and headed to the arena.”
By 8:30, she had reconnected with her husband — who had been on a business trip in Florida — at the Honda Center.
“Not being here was not an option,” Cynthia Allman said.
Kyle Allman Jr.’s trek — from a kid in Brooklyn, hidden in the basketball shadows, to standing in the spotlight, holding up the tournament MVP trophy — has had its own obstacle course.
An unsolicited videotape, one of many that Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor receives each year, brought Allman west in 2015. He packed up 70 pairs of shoes — his footwear addiction can rival that of a Kardashian – and joined a program that had won one conference game the previous season.
On Saturday, following a 71-55 victory over UC Irvine, the 6-foot-3, somewhat slender Allman basked in the moment, running between celebrating with teammates to handing his parents the spoils being handed to him as MVP. One prize was less tangible: a spot in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I would watch the [NCAA] tournament as a kid, but I never thought I would get there,” Allman said. “That’s why it’s a little unreal now. But not getting there would have been unacceptable at this point.”
Standing in the Fullerton gym, eyes fixated on a video screen, Taylor and assistant coach John Smith gaped at the tape from three years ago. Images of Allman flashed across the screen.
“The kid was super smooth,” Taylor said. “We saw him make a couple moves to the basket and said, ‘Let’s go outside.’ I asked John, ‘Is somebody messing with us because this can’t be real.’ I thought someone was playing a joke on us.”
Thomas McTernan, an AAU coach in New York, had often tried to place players who had been overlooked. He had a relationship with Smith, who had coached on the community level for 18 seasons before joining the Fullerton staff, and occasionally sent tapes.
“We saw that tape and it was a no-brainer,” Smith said. “We got on the phone to Tom right away.”
This was the culmination of the work Allman had put in.
Kyle Allman Sr. and his wife, like most parents, wanted their only son to play sports and, Cynthia Allman said, “football was absolutely forbidden.” Allman began playing in a soccer program. A year later, basketball came into the picture.
His parents would have preferred that soccer remained the focal point, but Allman said, “once I picked up a basketball, that’s all I wanted to play.”
An extended future for a skinny Brooklyn kid, who was barely involved in the AAU scene, would seem limited. But Allman and his dad put in the work.
It was in his nature.
When he was 6, riding in the car to church, he asked his mother, “Does God live in church?” Cynthia Allman said, “I told him God lives in your heart and is whereever you are. So, he said, ‘When I run, does God shake?’ ”
Kyle Allman Sr. would take his son to the track and have him dribble while running. Allman, who is right-handed, was only allowed to use his left hand. The drill paid off as he became equally lethal going left or right on the court.
Allman lifted weights to improve his vertical leap. There were nights when he would call his coach around midnight and ask if he could open the gym.
The sweat paid off. Allman was named All-Queens Public League as a senior at the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture. Still, college coaches didn’t take the time to get through the school’s name, let alone spend time looking at Allman.
“I just used it for motivation,” the soft-spoken Allman said.
Then came the call from Taylor.
“The first thing I did was Google ‘Fullerton,’ ” Allman said. “I saw how close it was to the beach. I was happy I wouldn’t have to deal with snow anymore.”
Snow prevented Taylor and Smith from going east, so Allman and his parents came west for a visit.
“We got a kid who led the conference in scoring on an unofficial visit,” Smith said. “It was just a blessing.”
Packing was a problem. Allman had to leave 10 pairs of shoes at home
“I take pride in my shoe game,” Allman said. “I got to put them on display.”
That has been noticed.
“Every shoe you can think of, he has them,” Fullerton guard Khalil Ahmad said.
Ahmad laughed and said, “it’s always like a movie with this guy.”
That panache was a welcome element to Taylor.
“He has that super Brooklyn personality,” Taylor said. “You automatically gravitate towards him.”
That evolved this season. Allman came off the bench as a freshman and averaged 10.2 points per game as starter last season. He was still left with a feeling of emptiness.
“I would make shots one day and miss them the next,” Allman said. “I knew I couldn’t be inconsistent this season. I went to work.”
Allman averaged 19.4 points to lead the Big West this season by operating surgically on a defense with stop-me-if-you-can drives or simply burying jumpers from beyond the three-point line.
His parents are usually in tow, often making connecting flights to reach the backwaters of the Big West Conference. They received more than frequent-flier miles — Allman has scored 30 or more four times, including a 40-point game in a 69-66 victory over Hawaii.
“His aggressiveness has been amazing this season,” Ahmad said. “He’s always in attack mode. When he’s getting buckets, everyone feeds off it.”
Which is what happened in the Big West tournament championship game against Irvine.
Allman scored nine of the Titans’ first 11 points and created the other bucket with a steal that sent Austen Awosika off on a breakaway layup. Allman then scored 10 of Fullerton’s first 14 points in the second half. His dunk on a breakaway with four minutes left no doubt where the Titans were headed.
“He gets what he needs while also serving the other guys on the floor,” Taylor said. “We saw a Picasso painting of what that can be tonight.”
Only Picasso didn’t get to hug his mom and dad when the work was done.
Cynthia Allman, wearing a Fullerton jersey with her son’s number and the words “my baby” emblazoned on the back, said, “What a wonderful day this has been.”