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The authentic journey of Jarrett Allen

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Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It’s not that Leonard and Cheryl Allen didn’t think much of their son’s chances in the world of basketball. Leonard, after all, had been solid big man for San Diego State, was even drafted by the Mavs. It’s just that they wanted more for him than hoops. He didn’t play AAU ball like most pros, wasn’t obsessed with his prospects until late in his high school career. He was just a kid, rather than a prospect.

Instead, as Kelly Whiteside writes in Monday’s New York Times, Allen played in church leagues and the community rec center. He got into computers, built one (which he still uses.) He had fun.

“We were clueless about organized basketball, at least on an elite level,” said Cheryl Allen. “We didn’t even know it existed, and I’m glad we were oblivious to that world...

“Jarrett from an early age has always had an interest and curiosity about the world around him,” Cheryl Allen added. “That is why his transition to Brooklyn has been an easy one. I’d like to think that not starting elite basketball so young helped. He was able to be a kid as long as possible before becoming consumed by it, which unfortunately happens.”

“I didn’t know the college scene was that big,” her son noted. “I didn’t know the N.B.A. was that big.”

Of course, it did hurt his draft stock. Some in the NBA felt his other interests belied a lack of that all-consuming interest in the sport and as his freshman season at Texas progressed, he dropped on the mocks.

Early on, he was pegged for the lottery, then as the Draft got closer, his name got harder to find. He bounced around the final weeks, up to 15, down to 18 and then on Draft Night, he dropped all the way to No. 22, where the Nets were ready to catch him, having taken on Andrew Nicholson’s albatross of a contract to secure the Wizards late first round pick.

As Whiteside notes, “the Nets saw the big picture,” a well-rounded player with larger world view. As anyone familiar with the Spurs culture can tell you, that’s the way San Antonio thinks about prospects. And that’s the way Sean Marks thinks. He, like “Pop and R.C.,” likes having a diversity of personalities, of backgrounds, of language skills and nationalities.

And Allen is different, as the Times notes, “an old soul” and a bit of a nerd.

Whiteside notes that instead of giving away sneakers or jerseys to kids at his Thanksgiving shopping tour, he gave the 25 kids chosen for the event personalized calculators with his name and number. He wanted them to use the calculators to figure out how they would use the $100 budget he gave them.

“Math is the future,” he told reporters at Key Food in Brooklyn.

As teammate (and fellow intellectual) Spencer Dinwiddie told the Times, “He’s so different from everyone usually in the NBA. Everybody else is like, ‘Wow, he’s weird.’ When everyone was referencing him as weird, or just kind of different, I was like, ‘Man, that’s my guy.’ He’s extremely smart. I love having conversations with him on that level.”

Dinwiddie adds that he believes Allen is a few muscles away from being dominant in the NBA, that as this year has proven, he can be a very special player. He like Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell, have picked it up since Caris LeVert went down. In the six games he’s played since then, he’s averaging 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds, shooting 55.9 percent overall and regularly setting new personal standards.

The Nets are positively giddy about their good fortune and believe Allen will advance dramatically. At one point last season, during a pre-game conversation about the team’s future with NetsDaily, Sean Marks motioned to where Allen was working on his shot and said, “look at him! He’s 19!”

He’s embraced the community as well. Joe Harris may take the subway to games. Allen often walks! His choice of charities for his shopping tour and pre-school visits to the barber shop is particularly telling. He has a relationship with Children of Promise which aims to help children of incarcerated parents. Not your typical choice.

“He doesn’t have a car,” Jared Dudley told Whiteside. “He doesn’t care about materialistic things. He cares about playing basketball, family and doing what he loves to do.”

And that, as the Nets and their fans have learned, is a good thing.