Q+A: Tony Allen


by David Cassilo / @dcassilo

Playing the role of defensive stopper for the Memphis Grizzlies last season, Tony Allen was one of the main reasons why his team shocked the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of the NBA world with its first round upset. Since being drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2004, Allen has transformed his game from highlight-reel dunker to defensive stalwart, earning All-Defensive Second Team honors for 2010-11.

This summer, though, he is getting on the offensive when it comes to helping underprivileged kids. This week Allen hosted the First Annual Grit & Grind Basketball Academy Camp for Youth, a free camp in the same neighborhood where he grew up in Chicago. The camp is followed by two back-to-school events on Saturday, August 6, where Allen will give away prizes and school supplies to 200 children.

On Thursday, Allen took a few minutes to talk about his camp, where he plans to play during the lockout and his team’s Playoff run last season.

SLAM: It was a crazy run for you guys in the Playoffs. What have you been doing this season ended?

Tony Allen: Just playing ball. Hooping at open gyms. Commercial leagues like the Bluff City Classic in Memphis. I might play in the Pro-Am at South Suburban. Just hooping in other cities, like Vegas.

SLAM: So are you planning on staying here while the lockout is going on or going overseas?

TA: Honestly, if the opportunity presents itself, I can’t say I’m going to shy from it, but for the most part, I worked hard to play in this American league over here. This great league called the NBA. One of the finest leagues in the world. The NBA needs guys like me. The guys who work hard. The blue-collar guys. The guys that don’t mind going to war like me. They need me.

SLAM: Seems like your content here, but have you at least gotten any offers?

TA: I haven’t even looked over there. I love this American game right here.

SLAM: Are you planning on working out with any of the Grizzlies over the summer?

TA: It’s cool you asked that because Zach just texted me and said he was trying to round the guys up and get them into one city for a good week-and-a-half or something. So I’m waiting on a call. I’m pretty sure in the next week or so we’ll try to get together as a team to find out if we’re going over the water or we’re staying here.

SLAM: So let’s talk about what you’ve been up to this week. How did you get the idea for this free camp?

TA: This is the first annual camp ever. My whole thing is promoting education. I was doing the book bag giveaways and back-to-school events every summer. This is my fifth annual back to school, but this is my first annual camp. I just want to help those underprivileged kids who didn’t get to go to Bulls camp and Derrick Rose camp, where they charge. I said we’re going to get the right people around me and do it in my neighborhood.

SLAM: How has the response been?

TA: My whole neighborhood is over here to support the little guys. It’s been a great camp. We had a full 100 kids yesterday. We feed them for lunch too.

SLAM: Any moments with the campers stick out?

TA: Yeah, these kids are really competitive. I come normally about the time the game starts kicking off. I get to coaching and let them know what they can do better. Yesterday, we were close to kicking a kid out because he had poor sportsmanship. We pulled him over to the side and let him know it’s not all about the points being scored. It ain’t about winning or losing. It’s about having fun. And if you lose, you need to shake your opponent’s hand.

SLAM: You’re one of the best defenders in the League. When a kid wants some help with defense, what do you tell him?

TA: He just always has to be square to the ball, be able to contain the ball and be ready at all times. Help-side defense too. You need to be alert. But at this early age, I don’t think they are going to grasp it right off hand. You need to get a lot of reps in. It takes a lot of experience to get this high-tech defensive IQ I got.

SLAM: When did you feel you finally figured out the defensive end?

TA: Sitting on that pine for a couple of games and a couple of series for Doc Rivers, it’ll catch on to you quick. You have to be able to defend. It’s not all about scoring. We pay our scorers to be our scorers, but somebody has to stop the other monster on the opposing team. I just do the little things that a lot of the guys in the league aren’t accustomed to doing.

SLAM: Talk about your team’s run last year. Is that something you thought was possible?

TA: I saw it in the making. I came to a team that was 10 games below .500. I helped them get over the hump because that’s what they said they needed. If you ask me, my job was well done with the help of my great teammates, Zach Randolph, Michael Conley and OJ Mayo. Great coaching staff with Lionel Hollins and his crew. Great GM. Shout out to Chris Wallace. He showed me the vision first, and I was sold off his pitch. Whoever doubted us beforehand, it’s okay. We took the underdog role and made nothing to something. The rest was history.

SLAM: How do you like living and playing in Memphis since you moved down there?

TA: What I like about Memphis is they embrace hard work. They embrace going after and getting it. That’s a blue-collar city. Let’s admit it, they aren’t big on marketing or television. A lot of people are just now catching a hold of the Memphis Grizzlies.

SLAM: And next year a lot more people will be on the look out for you guys. You ready for that target?

TA: We work at a high level. We’re talking about everything: practice, games, film sessions. We’re going over it just like the champions go over it. We’re trying to get out of that mind frame of us just being the Grizzlies that can’t win a playoff game. The Grizzlies that can’t get out of a series. We’re trying to erase that.