One is a mama's boy from Dalzell, S.C. Another is a 7-foot
Mormon from Sandy, Utah. The third is a sharpshooter from Israel.
Ray Allen. Travis Knight. Doron Sheffer. Their paths to Storrs,
Conn., were dramatically different, but their goal is now the
same: to bring Connecticut its third consecutive Big East
regular-season title and its first national championship.
The Huskies have come tantalizingly close to the NCAA crown. In
1990 they lost in the regional finals to Duke on a 14-footer by
Christian Laettner at the buzzer in overtime. In '91 they again
fell to Duke, the eventual NCAA champion, in the regional
Three years later, against Florida in the Sweet 16, UConn's
All-America forward Donyell Marshall was to shoot two free
throws with 3.4 seconds left and the score knotted, 57-57.
Marshall, who had set a Big East record earlier in the season by
making 20 of 20 from the line against St. John's, missed both,
and the Huskies lost in overtime. Last season, in the West
Regional final, UConn lost to eventual champion UCLA 102-96.
"I don't know anyone who's knocked on the door louder than we
have in the last few years," says Husky coach Jim Calhoun. The
keys to finally opening that door are Allen, Knight and Sheffer.
Allen, a 6'5" junior shooting guard, became the first player in
school history to score 1,000 points or more during his
sophomore season and was named a third-team All-America. He
averaged 21.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and hit 44.5% of
"He's so complete it's unbelievable," says Pittsburgh coach
Ralph Willard of Allen, who was nicknamed the Candy Man at
Hillcrest High due to his sweet moves.
"People compare him to the guy who plays in Chicago because he
does so many things so well and he plays so effortlessly," says
Calhoun. "But with his charisma, he reminds me of Grant Hill.
But his mom didn't go to Vassar with Hillary."
With his father, Walt, in the Air Force, Allen and his four
siblings were raised by their mother, Flora, and Walt in base
after base in California, England, Germany and Oklahoma before
settling in South Carolina. Ray says his mom is his idol, and he
proudly concedes he inherited many of her qualities.
One of those is a gregarious nature--which, incidentally, has
really paid off. During the summer before his sophomore year,
Allen got a job at a car dealership near campus. "He came in
with a suit and tie and said, 'I want to work,'" says the
dealership's vice president, Ken Champagne Jr. "Originally he
was going to be washing cars. But he said he wanted to try
sales, and I decided to let him try."
Smart move. By the time classes started, Allen had sold five
cars. "I can be very persuasive," Allen says.
Champagne will tell you that selling cars takes more than
persuasion. "Salesmen are lazy by nature, and they have a habit
of shortcutting," he says. "Ray didn't shortcut at all. He's the
same in basketball. He's a natural hard worker."
Allen also inherited his mom's compulsive cleanliness. "I can't
stand when things are out of order," he says. "Sometimes Travis
[Knight, his roommate] leaves his shoes in the living room or
his cereal box on the table. I'll just throw it all into his
Calhoun's reaction to Allen's fastidiousness? "That says a lot
about Ray as a person," he says. "He never wants to look bad."
Knight doesn't want to look bad either. In the three years the
7-footer has been at UConn, he has made eye-catching progress on
the hardwood, boosting his scoring average from 2.5 points per
game in '93-94 to 9.1 last season and his rebound average from
2.9 to 8.2. Calhoun calls him "the most improved player in the
Knight grew up 35 miles outside Provo, Utah, in the sizable
shadow of his 6'10" brother, Shane, who played forward at BYU
from 1991 to '95. "Everyone just assumes that if you're a Mormon
athlete, you go to BYU," says Travis. "People back home never
thought I'd play here."
Sheffer, too, is a long way from home. But ever since Nadav
Henefeld left Ramat-Hasharon, Israel, to play for UConn six
years ago, Israeli basketball fans have treated the Huskies like
the home team. UConn sportswear is sold all over the country,
and an Israeli TV station broadcasts about half the Huskies'
Sheffer has been popular in Connecticut, too, winning Big East
Rookie of the Year honors in 1993-94 after averaging 11.9 points
per game on 50.5% shooting. Last season he slumped to 10.6 per
game, hitting just 39.6% from the field. But his desire to
improve on that--and increase his value to the NBA--may have
spurred him to pass on joining a European pro team and to return
to Storrs for his senior season.
Allen also resisted the temptation of big bucks when he opted
not to declare himself eligible for the NBA draft. Calhoun says
a few NBA general managers told him that Allen could have gone
as high as No. 5. Yet Allen resisted. "Ray's smart," says
Knight. "He watched a few guys go pro without giving themselves
enough time to mature."
Allen says he stayed at UConn because he didn't want to cheat
himself out of the college experience and because he wanted to
be another year closer to receiving his bachelor's degree in
communications sciences. "Most black athletes don't try to
better themselves educationally. They let people run over them,"
Allen says. "I take pride in changing that perception."
As good as Allen, Knight and Sheffer are, there are some other
people on this team. Connecticut's defensive stalwart is 6'6"
Rudy Johnson, a small forward who has already received his
undergraduate degree in sport and social issues. The other
forward is 6'8" junior Kirk King, who has started only one game
but has played in 65. Sheffer's backup at the point, freshman
Ricky Moore, who averaged 23 points and 8.6 assists per game at
Westside High in Augusta, Ga., and fellow top recruits Rashamel
Jones, a 6'5" swingman, and Antric Klaiber, a 6'10" forward,
figure to see playing time right away.
If those contributions pan out, Calhoun's Huskies could become
the first team in Big East history to win three straight
regular-season crowns. "We're like a machine," Calhoun says. "We
get it rolling and just keep the good teams coming."
COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Allen, UConn's driving force, draws comparisons to no less than Michael Jordan. [Ray Allen]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Jim Calhoun
Career record: 440-233 (23 seasons)
Record at Connecticut: 190-96 (9 seasons)
1994-95 record: 28-5 (final ranking: sixth)
Big East record: 16-2 (first)
SF Rudy Johnson, 6'6", Sr.
Starting though already graduated
PF Kirk King, 6'8", Jr.
Needs to better 2.4 career scoring average
C *Travis Knight, 7'0", Sr.
Led team with 8.2 boards per game
SG *Ray Allen, 6'5", Jr.
Unanimous All-Big East in '94-95
PG *Doron Sheffer, 6'5", Sr.
Member Israeli national team
Jan. 8 vs. Villanova
Rematch of Big East tourney final won by Wildcats
Jan. 21 vs. Syracuse
League's top two teams of '90s
Jan. 28 vs. Virginia
Allen vs. Cav stopper Harold Deane
Feb. 19 at Georgetown
Can Sheffer handle Hoya guard Allen Iverson?
Feb. 25 at Villanova
Kerry Kittles and Allen battle for player of the year
NEWCOMER TO WATCH
Rashamel Jones has never had a particular fondness for
humiliation, so why does he insist on covering all-everything
guard Ray Allen during pickup games? Because he knows if he can
guard Allen, he can guard anybody.
Many young players think of little other than lighting up the
scoreboard with dunks, but Jones is different. Even at Trinity
High in Stamford, Conn., where he averaged 27 points per game
and was named state player of the year, Jones garnered as much
attention from coaches for his tenacity as for his scoring.
Jones's fire, combined with his quick hands, makes him a lethal
threat to opposing ball handlers. Says UConn coach Jim Calhoun,
"He could lead the country in steals as a freshman." And that's
not even counting pickup games.