Pendleton County Coach Keaton Belcher expected blowback if Dontaie Allen won the 2019 Mr. Basketball race.
It didn’t take long for some on social media to skewer the outcome, which saw Allen — who played in only 13 games this season for the Wildcats after tearing his ACL and meniscus in December — defeat a crowded field of high-profile honorees, among them Louisville signee David Johnson (a star for Sweet Sixteen contender Trinity) and University Heights Academy star KyKy Tandy, who’s signed with Xavier and finished as a top-10 scorer in state history.
Allen before his injury was averaging 42.9 points and 14.2 rebounds per game this season — leading the state in both categories — and Pendleton County had a 9-3 record before its game against Cooper on Dec. 22, during which Allen suffered his injury. He finished his career with 3,255 points, good for what would be 11th most in the KHSAA record book.
“I would say that his body of work for five seasons and us doing a pretty good job of shopping him around the state of Kentucky,” said Belcher when asked to respond to those who might question Allen’s selection. He noted that Pendleton County in Allen’s time there had played in 12 of the 16 regions.
“I don’t think any other candidates can say that. Us scheduling appropriately, him averaging 45 points a game, those things were definitely factors in the award, along with him signing with the University of Kentucky. ... I think people appreciate that he grew up in a small town and even though he was looked at by several schools — prep schools, different high schools — that he stayed home and played with his high school friends. That says more about his character than it does him as an athlete, and I think he’s well respected for that.”
It’s speculative — no formal criteria exists for the award, nor are voters forced to share their ballot or thought process behind it — but signing with the state’s most popular basketball program — and being the first in-state player to do so in six years — probably carried a lot of weight for many polled.
It couldn’t have hurt that Belcher, a Twitter maven and Kentucky basketball history buff, continued to push Allen’s candidacy hard leading up to the final vote.
“Luckily it’s 2019 and not 1989, where the power of social media and emails and contacts (exists),” Belcher said with a laugh. “It really helped, I’m not gonna lie.”
UHA Coach Grant Shouse was disgruntled about the outcome.
“I would think that the highest individual award in the state would be settled on the court for the season, but I don’t want to take away from anything that Dontaie Allen has done or will do,” Shouse said. “Obviously getting injured is something totally out of his control, but we felt like KyKy, his numbers stood for themselves and we felt like he had a really good shot of bringing home this honor.”
Shouse thinks only a player’s senior season should be considered for the vote since only seniors are eligible to be elected as Region Players of the Year (who become finalists for Mr. and Miss Basketball). He noted, though, that Tandy also finished ahead of Allen on the career scoring list.
“KyKy played on a 30-win team against probably one of the toughest schedules in the state, and night in night out put up outstanding numbers against great competition,” Shouse said. “ … As far as we’re concerned, he is Mr. Basketball.”
Belcher believes Allen would have continued to average 40-plus points per game if he’d been able to finish his final season at Pendleton County. Such a stretch would have put him in contention to finish among the top three scorers of all time. If he’d somehow managed to score about 1,110 points the rest of the way he would have passed “King” Kelly Coleman, whose 4,337 points have been the most in boys’ history since 1956.
“It makes you wonder, ‘Could he have caught the King?’” Belcher said. “ ... It’s pretty remarkable what he’s done. He’s (been) rewarded for his hard work.”
Allen was grateful for Tuesday’s outcome. He said he wasn’t expecting to be named Mr. Basketball.
“It’s crazy, honestly,” Allen said. “I played 13 games and to think that I got it, that shows a lot.”