Player of the Year Elijah Allen leaves his mark at Dover

DOVER — The voice bellowed out from the stands of the Boys & Girls club off Route 896.

“That ain’t Jordan Allen,” the spectator yelled. “That kid ain’t even gonna score 20 today.”

It was a summer league game for the Dover High boys’ basketball team in 2018. And Elijah Allen had heard the comparisons to his older brother plenty of times before.

Jordan Allen was an All-State player at Dover who went on to play at Rider University and Lynn University.

At that point, in between his sophomore and junior seasons, Elijah Allen was known as “Jordan’s younger brother.”

Things were about to change.

Allen started the game with a layup plus a foul, sinking the free throw. On the next possession, he did the exact same thing.

“He starts with three points, then six, then nine, then 12,” Dover coach Stephen Wilson recalls. “That summer he turned it up to another level.”

Fast forward to the end of his senior year, Elijah Allen is no longer the younger brother. He’s Elijah Allen — the best basketball player in the state.

Allen was honored this season by winning both the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association’s Player of the Year award and the Gatorade Player of the Year. He is the first Dover player to win the DSBA’s award and the third to earn the Gatorade award after Corey Crawford (2010) and Jordan Allen (2016).

“It wasn’t easy because everyone expected me to be like Jordan,” Allen said. “That motivated me to be my own self. Make my own name. Everyone knows me for who I am now. I’m not compared to ‘JA,’ I’m ‘EA.’ It was some pressure because if you’re his brother, you got to be great. Sometimes when I was younger I didn’t meet those expectations because I wasn’t there yet. But I’m there now.”

And for the record, Elijah Allen had 20 points by halftime in that summer league game. Wilson couldn’t resist a parting shot at the heckler.

“Every point he scored I called out,” Wilson laughed. “I told that guy at the end of the game, ‘You better put some respect on his name.’”

‘Don’t wait’

Wilson points to that summer of 2018 when Allen made the leap to an elite player.

It started with a setback at the end of his sophomore season.

Dover reached the second round of the DIAA state tournament that year and the Senators went on the road to face Salesianum. They nearly pulled off the upset, falling 34-30.

But Allen spent more time on the bench than he would have liked. Nothing was falling for him that day.

“He must’ve been 0-8 from three so I called timeout and asked him what was wrong,” Wilson said. “He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know.’ I told him I’m sorry but I had to take him out. I probably should have taken him out sooner.”

“That was the worst game of my high school career,” Allen said. “I was young at the time. I wasn’t mentally there.”

Twenty-four hours later, Allen contacted Wilson.

“I promised him we weren’t losing no more,” Allen said.

“He goes, ‘Coach I’m sorry, we’re going to turn it up. I’m going to get you a championship, I’m going to get you all the awards,’” Wilson said. “I say, ‘Are you sure?’ He says yes. Everyday after that, he’s in the gym, he’s in the weight room. He’s working on shooting, mid-range, handles, lifting, running, losing weight and building muscle.”

The motto for that summer was  ‘Don’t wait.’

“He never missed a workout,” Wilson said. “He trusted me to help get him to that level. I kept telling him, ‘Don’t wait.’ The time is now. Every game that summer he would have 30 or 40 points. I kept on him though, ‘Don’t wait.’ If he ever got too comfortable, I’d be there saying, ‘Don’t wait.’”

Everything took off for Allen and Dover his junior season.

The Senators won their first game of the year and reeled off 24 straight victories to reach the state championship game. They were winning over Sanford late in the game but ended up falling by three points.

Allen and Eden Davis both made the All-State first team that year. They each had big summers on the AAU circuit and colleges started taking notice.

Since that loss to Salesianum in 2018, Dover went 45-3.

“I was ready to turn it around after that loss,” Allen said. “I felt like I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved. I was motivated. I’m doing this not for myself but for people I lost like my friends Troy and Courtlen and my grandmother.”

All in the family

Wilson has had an Allen brother on each of his Dover teams except two.

First was the oldest Xavier Allen who went on to play wide receiver at Wesley College. Then was Jordan Allen who like Elijah was a varsity player all four years.

Elijah Allen arrived at Dover the year after Jordan Allen graduated.

“I remember having a conversation with his mother that he’s not Xavier or Jordan, he’s Elijah and I’ll treat him as such,” Wilson said. “He sounded so mature and so grown when I talked to him and he asked me to help guide him. I think he really was just worried about being the best person he could be.”

Allen’s older brothers helped shape his game from a very young age.

He would play against the two of them and their friends growing up. Because of that, he’s not afraid to play through contact with the ball in his hands.

“They would beat me up when we played,” Allen laughed. “That got me tougher. I’m a lot tougher now. They always supported me through everything, telling me they love me and they got my back.”

Allen said his mother, Jennifer Queen, is who helped him the most.

After his breakout junior season, the college offers took longer than he thought. There were some long nights wondering if the Division I scholarships were ever going to happen.

“It starts with my mom,” Allen said. “When I had no offers and would second guess myself, she was that shoulder I could lean on.”

“That kind of hurt me that it was taking so long, knowing that I worked hard enough to get noticed,” Allen added. “But my mom and coach always would tell me to be patient. Coach Wilson, he told me, ‘By the end of the summer you’ll have five offers.’ I had seven then, so he was right. Just trust the process.”

Allen had a handful of 40-point games on the summer circuits. He scored 50 points at an AAU tournament in Atlanta.

“I remember when I saw him after that I said, ‘The game feels easy to you now huh?’” Wilson said. “He became a complete basketball player. He said the conditioning is helping. He was running a mile everyday, still never missed a workout.”

“I don’t think he put pressure on himself to live up to his brothers,” Wilson added. “I think he just didn’t want to disappoint his mother.”

What’s next?

Allen said he’s likely to make his decision on where he’ll play in college some time in April.

He has offers from Delaware State, Howard, Wagner, Alabama A&M and Southern Utah. He also has a couple of Division II schools who have offered and interest from Providence, UAB and Fairfield.

His high school basketball career ended unexpectedly when the season was canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. The Senators were preparing for the state semifinals as they were attempting to make it back to the state championship game when the games were called off.

A week later, Allen found out about his Player of the Year honors.

“We really wanted that state championship but that cheered me up a little bit,” Allen said. “It’s still a little shocking to think about. My freshman year, I was ranked really low, now I’m No. 1.”

Wilson found it fitting Allen’s final game came against Salesianum. The Senators defeated the Sals 60-50 in the quarterfinals after being down double-digits in the first half. Allen had 15 points to lead the comeback.

“He put a goal out there, told me what he wanted and got after it,” Wilson said. “He wanted to do it all. He wanted to go down in history and he left his mark here.”