The Nets never got a chance to put Jarrett Allen through an individual workout because the freshman center out of Texas was expected to go anywhere from Nos. 10 to 20 in Thursday night’s NBA Draft before the Nets exercised their No. 22 pick. But that didn’t mean they weren’t targeting him.
General manager Sean Marks and his staff interviewed Allen once at the pre-draft combine in Chicago and again at the Nets’ training facility the night before the draft. At Allen’s introductory news conference Friday, Marks said he explored trading up for him but was “thrilled” that it wasn’t necessary.
“We’re expecting big things, and I know he is, too,” Marks said. “This is going to be a bright start, a bright future.”
No one fell harder for Allen than coach Kenny Atkinson, who explained his infatuation this way: “It’s rare when you get your guy. That’s what makes me so excited . . . When I started watching games, I was immediately [snaps fingers], you know. It’s like when you see a beautiful girl walking. You’re like, ‘Wow, this guy is really good.’
“He does everything we want in a big player — runs the court, defends the rim, has great timing, great feel for the game. I was really impressed with his passing. I’m up here pinching myself.”
Allen expected to go higher, but when his name began dropping, he handled it with the maturity that Texas coach Shaka Smart touted to the Nets. “I’m happy I ended up here,” Allen said, recognizing the opportunity to develop with a rebuilding team coming off an NBA-worst season.
“I see just greatness, having a team and an organization that is focused on development. Personally, I need somebody to help me develop . . . If [the Nets’ young players] all grow and develop together, we’re all striving for the same goal. So I believe that creates a stronger bond for a team, and that’s just going to help us out in the future.”
Allen averaged 13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots for Texas and has a great shooting touch near the rim, as his 56.6 field-goal percentage shows. Atkinson said Allen’s shooting fundamentals show he eventually can be stretched out to develop a three-point shot. But starting out, it will be “baby steps,” with an emphasis on the defensive impact he can make with what Atkinson described as “amazing timing” on his blocked shots and the ability to switch and defend smaller players.
“When you’re talking about the No. 1 piece I’m excited about,” Atkinson said, “it’s his defensive ability, defensive IQ.”
When it was suggested that veteran center Timofey Mozgov, who was acquired in the Brook Lopez trade, is likely to start ahead of Allen, Atkinson said it will be an open competition.
Referring to Mozgov’s size and strength advantage, Atkinson said of Allen, “He’s going to feel Timmy when Timmy comes in. But I don’t ever look at the guy’s age when I’m putting out the starting lineup, who’s going to play. You have to earn it. If he comes in and earns it . . . you know, it’s obvious he’s a guy we brought in to play some minutes.”
Allen understands what he’s up against, saying he has a “glaring” need to get stronger. He said Smart and Pacers center Myles Turner, who played at Texas, advised him not to dwell on his bad days but to come back with a positive attitude and more intensity the next day.
That clearheaded attitude obviously was passed down from his parents, Leonard and Cheryl, along with the genes that helped him grow to 6-10. Leonard, who is 6-8, played basketball at San Diego State and went on to play in Spain and elsewhere in Europe in the 1980s. Cheryl also played basketball in her youth.
“She always says Jarrett got his shot from her,” Leonard said of his wife. “I’m like, woman, I shot 60 percent in college!”
Beyond basketball, Jarrett said he is a computer geek who got that interest from his father, who works for Dell. Leonard Allen emphasized interests beyond basketball to his son, which is why he developed a more well-rounded outlook before recognizing in high school that his hoops talent was elite.
“People are always going to want you just because you can’t teach height,” Leonard Allen said. “Going to that next level, it’s not guaranteed. What, 450 players in the NBA? So I didn’t want him to just be like his only focus was basketball. There’s other things in life out there besides basketball.
“There’s down times away from the job. But his competitive edge, just a quiet assassin.”