Less than a month after learning that his high school basketball career was finished, Pendleton County star Dontaie Allen is in good spirits, on the road to recovery, and already looking ahead to his future at the University of Kentucky.
Allen — a 6-foot-6 wing who signed with UK in November — suffered a knee injury during a game in late December and received a diagnosis of a torn ACL on Jan. 2, bringing an end to one of the best careers in state history.
On pace to finish as Kentucky’s second all-time leading scorer — and perhaps challenge the state record set by Kelly Coleman more than 60 years ago — Allen instead finished 10th on the points list despite playing in just 13 games as a senior.
At first, he was listed as “day to day” and expected to return to the court. A third MRI two weeks after the injury showed the full extent of the damage.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
“I was devastated, of course,” Allen told the Herald-Leader this week. “Going into it, I had no idea. I didn’t really have any pain or any swelling. It was tough to take in.”
Allen’s father, Tony Thomas, told the Herald-Leader that his son suffered a torn meniscus in addition to the ACL tear, but his surgery a little more than three weeks ago was a success and a full recovery is expected. The future Kentucky Wildcat is doing physical therapy exercises every day at home in addition to multiple trips per week to UK’s sports medicine clinic in Lexington.
The doctors have been pleased with his progress so far.
“He’s been feeling pretty good,” Thomas said. “He’s working hard and doing what he needs to do to get back on the court in a timely manner. ... He’s recovering a lot faster than was actually expected.”
Though he proved himself to be among the best players in the state as a junior last season, Allen was an under-the-radar recruit nationally until a series of breakthrough performances with his M.A.T.T.S. Mustangs travel team in the spring and summer. UK quickly ramped up its interest, and he was committed to the Cats by August before signing in November.
He also rocketed up the national recruiting rankings — checking in at No. 55 overall on Rivals.com’s updated list this week — and the additional spotlight brought expectations of becoming an immediate contributor at UK next season.
The knee injury hasn’t necessarily changed that outlook.
Thomas said doctors have given his son a recovery time line that would result in a return to the court in October, which would be just before the start of the 2019-20 college season. He added that Allen could be ready to get back to basketball activities before that, depending on how the physical therapy progresses. Sitting out next season as a redshirt player hasn’t been discussed.
“It hasn’t even been brought up with the coaches,” Thomas said. “We’re just going to take our time with it and see how he progresses, as far as his physical therapy and working on his game to get back in game-ready shape. We’re going to take it one day at a time, and then when that bridge comes, we’ll see if we decide to cross it. We’ll discuss it a little bit more as a family and with the staff at UK, and we’ll make a decision from there.
“But, as of right now, no one has even brought it up.”
Thomas added that Allen will need to be “100 percent ready” before he attempts to play again — obviously not wanting to risk re-injury with a premature comeback — and UK coaches and players have been supportive during these early stages.
John Calipari, who accepted Allen’s commitment moments after extending a UK scholarship offer in August, reached out immediately.
“He just said he felt for me but there are always bumps in the road and adversity makes you a stronger person,” Allen said. “He just told me to push through the adversity and come back stronger.”
Assistant coach Joel Justus stays in regular contact and has expressed interest in accompanying Allen to one of his physical therapy sessions in the near future. Brad Calipari, who also suffered a torn ACL during his high school career, has been among the players checking in and offering advice.
“They’re right there with us every step of the way,” Thomas said.
The initial shock of the diagnosis — and its obvious impact on Allen’s career and Pendleton County’s season — was devastating, but the 18-year-old and his family have already adopted a positive outlook. Allen said Wednesday that he was “really looking forward to the journey” back to full strength, and Thomas said he thinks it might even help his son in the long run.
Allen is already among the most skilled offensive players in the country. One knock on his game to this point has been a lack of explosiveness and strength, especially in the lower body.
“It’s a blessing in disguise, if you ask me,” Thomas said of the rehab process. “The weakest part of his game is probably his legs. He can do everything as a big guard, but you want that quick explosion. And, now, he’s going to be forced to work on it.”
Though his exact return date remains undecided, Allen is on track to go through the regular process of incoming basketball freshmen. He said he expects to be enrolled at UK in June — a much shorter commute to the university’s sports clinic will be an added bonus to his move to Lexington — and he’ll join in on team activities from there alongside fellow class of 2019 commitments Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney.
Allen said the future teammates have a text group together and stay in almost daily contact, preparing for the next step in their basketball careers.
“We’re just all ready to make it happen,” he said. “We’re just trying to jell early so when we get there we’re all comfortable with each other. I’m really looking forward to it.”