Interview with Percy Allen

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by: Griffin Bennett

Last Wednesday I sat down with the Percy Allen from the Seattle Times. He is the Washington basketball beat writer and his blog provides us all with the best news and inside information from around the Pac-10 and beyond. Our conversation lasted almost 2 full hours and I tried to ask him every question that I could come up with. It was a little look behind the “Man in the Baby Blue Collar”. From his Pac-10 predictions to his thoughts on the future of beat writing, I really tried to cover all of the bases. Percy is a great and honest guy and whose opinions actually carry weight. It was an amazing interview and he has a few shocking opinions. Hopefully I can sit down again with him in the off season. It’s a long interview, so this one could kill some time at work. Enjoy.

Griffin Bennett: What’s your story? Can you give us a little background on your history and how you got to where you are now?

Percy Allen: I was born in raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I spent a little time in Atlanta, but mostly in Cleveland. I went to college at Kent State and I came out here [Seattle] after college and I’ve been here now for almost 20 years. I came up with the [Seattle] Times and started covering high schools for a few years and then moved to Husky football and basketball. I covered the Bob Bender years, way back in the day, as well as the Jim Lambright years [for football]. I left right before Rick Neuhesiel came on the scene and went to [cover] the Seahawks for three years and then moved to the Sonics. I always wanted to cover the NBA. That was my passion. I did that until they moved away and then I was kind of floating and didn’t have a place to go. They asked me if I wanted to go back to Husky basketball and I said ‘sure’. That’s how I got here and the rest is history. I have a kid; an 18 month old kid. Her name is Amelia and she has changed my life.

Griffin Bennett: I’ve got to ask you: What are your qualifications for your Pac-10 Power Rankings?

Percy Allen: [Laughs]. I love the rankings. I think they’re fun. One, it’s a POWER ranking, so I think that part gets lost. It’s not a prediction on how the race is going to go. It doesn’t even take into account the full body of work. This is a snap shot. If you didn’t know anything about the league or the Pac-10, this is where, I believe, the league is right now. Is it statistically based? Not exactly. I think that some of the statistical based rankings lose the eye-test and the feel-test, which does matter. I take things that are trends and winning streaks are big, but it also takes into account who you beat and where you beat them. You have to take injuries into account too. That’s the one thing that some people don’t think of. If someone didn’t have their best play and they lost, then what does that really mean? In a nutshell, it’s my thoughts. There’s really nothing behind it and I’m not trying to spark debate or anything. I try to TIVO as many games as I can and I watch as much as possible. I get a lot of feedback from “my guys” as I start to develop relationships with guys from around the league, which is great as this is my second year. I know every beat writer and we all talk either that Sunday night or on Monday morning. We all throw it into the hopper. Doug Holler does a great job and he and I talk a lot. Bruce Pascoe and Jon Wilner do a really good job as well. We mix our opinions and we don’t always agree. There’s no easy explanation.

GB: What is the mission or goal for your blog? Do you see it as more reporting, or more of an editorial?

PA: I guess the mission and the goal is to get information out, to analyze, not only to break news but to be accurate, and explain things behind the scenes. In addition to all of that, we are also writing for the newspaper. That stuff gets lost these days and understandably so. I don’t know what comes first anymore. The blog is more immediate and it allows you to go more in-depth. Let’s say you have a story and you’re only able to write so much, the blog allows you get more depth. Other than that, you’re able to have more fun with it at times. You can put your own personality in it. If you read our newspaper, we have tons of different bloggers and there’s really no rhyme or reason or form and we all kind of do our own thing. The mission is sort of all encompassing. Everything goes there and we’re in this age now where we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s all changed. In this medium, there’s no form to it so we’re just trying to figure it out.

GB: What does a typical game-day look like for you? Road vs. Home?

PA: There is blogging throughout the day and I like to do picks and all of that nature. Home games are much easier and I don’t cover the shoot-arounds. At away games they are more lax and you can talk to the TV analysts and such. You get the better access on the road. Coaches and players are more relaxed so you are more with the team. Home games, if it is a 7 o’clock game, I will show up at around 5:30 or so and, undoubtedly, Terrence Ross will be the first person there. He beats everyone there to the arena. Everyone: seniors, everybody.

GB: What is the future of beat writing with the print media suffering financially?

PA: I don’t know. I was watching the Super Bowl and saw an ad for the new iPad app called “The Daily” and it piqued my interest. I wonder if in 5 years if that is going to replace newspapers. In terms of beat writing, I’m hopeful. That’s the word that I like to throw out there. I think that I some way, shape, or form, regardless of how it shakes out; I think that the world is always going to need somebody at the scene to tell you or give you the information from someone who is responsible and trained. However, the whole citizen journalism thing isn’t going away at all and that’s only going to get bigger. At the same time though, through all of the noise and all of the confusion, I think that there are times where you are going to look for something, somewhere for the straight scoop and I’m hopeful that the established institutions can provide that.

GB: Can you talk some of the Husky fans out there off of the ledge?

PA: I’ll try, but I don’t know if I can. 5 out of 7 home games left in conference; that’s it right there. We haven’t seen, so far, that they won’t play well at home. So there’s that and that’s big. Other than that, we’ll see. I think this is, for me, the fun part. This is where I get bashed by Husky fans because I’m not a UW ‘fan’. I didn’t go to the school, and I like Romar a lot and tend to root for nice guys, but I think this is the fun part. Things have been taken out of their hands and the road now goes through Tucson. It will be fun to see how they respond. Will they make it? I don’t know because in times from adversity, from what I’ve seen, this team shoots threes.

GB:  If you had to rank your top 3 problems with the Huskies, right now, what would they be and in what order?

PA: I know the buzzword of the day is defense but if I’m calling it, the top would be wing-play. Offensively, I just think it’s too hard to Isaiah right now. He had a fantastic stretch for four or five games, however the coaches in this league are paid a lot of money and they do a pretty good job of scouting. They’ve figured him out some. Isaiah at the top of the key with the ball was something that we hadn’t seen before. Now they’ve seen it and, we can think Ken Bone for this, they said ‘we’re going to put two guys out there and we are not going to let him drive from the top of the key and everyone knows he’s left handed.’ What I have seen, is that they are forcing guys like Holiday and Suggs to beat them and they are willing to live with that. They’re betting that they won’t make it, especially on the road. The wings are catching and shooting it. They don’t do much after that and they need to do more. I’m sort of tipping my hand here, but I think it’s a big game for Holiday. It’s Holiday’s time. He’s a senior, a captain, been in the program, opportunities, and he has the respect. It’s his ‘Quincy Pondexter-moment’. All eyes are on Thomas and Bryan-Amaning, and it’s going to come his way. [Against Cal] he is going to be guarding a freshman. Allen Crabbe is a great freshman, but still a freshman. Holiday has got to take over. To summarize, from the wings there’s not enough slashing, not enough creativity and too much catch and shooting.

Secondly, I’d say the defense. It’s been too difficult facing half-court offenses. This team has to get out and make games track meets. They need to get their hands out and get deflections because that’s just what they do.

Thirdly, I would say fire and leadership and all of that. Some of that has been lost here, and it shows itself in losses but not as much in wins. In these three losses here, you haven’t seen that sort of fire. The Oregon State game was that way, WSU [game] was flat, but that crowd in Pullman had a LOT to do with that.

GB: Why have the Huskies struggled against the zone recently?

PA: Early in the season, they didn’t see a zone against USC and UCLA because they don’t play one.  So they only saw one on the road at Cal, and they destroyed them. It’s just percentages: sometimes the shots go down, and sometimes they don’t. Then also, teams have changed their scouting and packed it in ever further. They won’t let Bryan-Amaning go off knowing that he’s their only weapon in the post. Teams know that if he’s not scoring inside, then they have to score from outside.

GB: Should Romar be switching up the starting lineup? If so, what would you change?

PA: I wouldn’t think so. I only get to see so much of practice, so I wouldn’t think so. At this time you need to look at the bigger picture. I don’t think it’s time to experiment. I know the whole ‘start Terrence Ross” movement is gaining some steam here, but I wouldn’t. I don’t think he’s ready.

GB: What is your take on the Suggs/Wilcox/Ross debate? Who do you think deserves to be starting or receiving the most playing time?

PA: It’s almost too easy to say ‘whoever has the hot hand’. That’s the knee-jerk fan thing to say, but there is something to that. I personally am old school this way, but I like older guys who have been in the system. I’m a big Scott Suggs fan. I became his fan last summer [2010] in some pick-up games with the guys and he just looked different. Has he has that breakout season this year? Not yet, but he’s in that Justin Holiday mold that this is his time and he needs to start building towards his senior campaign. I compare him to Klay Thompson of a couple years ago as a catch and shoot guy. He needs to make it easier for other people and that’s his next step. We kind of saw a little bit of that this last weekend, but people will go crazy because of the turnovers, but it’s kind of a good thing too because that says that he’s trying to do something else. Maybe he struggles and it doesn’t go so well, but he’s trying to do something else now. You kind of have to live with the struggles and growing pains, and it sucks that it’s happening in crucial games.

Ross can be phenomenal when he’s on but defensively he still has some issues there. For C.J. [Wilcox], it’s just been a hard luck year for him. I just talked to him 2-3 days ago and he says his conditioning is fine, but I’ve got to believe that it’s affecting him there. He says his confidence is there but I’ve got to believe that it’s bothering him some there too. He’s a freshman, and even though he’s a red-shirt freshman, he’s still a freshman.

For the breakdown, I would lean more towards Suggs because he’s been there and then if Ross looks like he’s going to score 25 again, then keep him in there. If C.J. looks like he’s going to rebound then I would keep him in too. I would also have a freer hand at home than on the road because role players play well at home and don’t show up on the road.

GB: From your assessment being close to the team, how much has the sexual assault investigation impacted the team?

PA: I can’t really delve too much into it. I asked the players this question and they say ‘none’. I ask the coach the question and he won’t even touch it. I can only take them at their word. In strictly my opinion, they are a very close team. I would imagine that if one of their members is going through something very serious that it would affect the others. Now would that affect free-throw shooting, boxing out and things of that nature?  I don’t know. To some degree, I would say the issues have come on the court. To what degree, I have no idea.

GB: Romar didn’t seem show too much emotion on the sideline on the road, why is that?

PA: No, I haven’t heard that. I Pullman he was absolutely calm, but I thought that at Oregon State he expressed some and almost drew a technical at one time. I’ve only seen him take off his jacket once, and that was last year against West Virginia. He’s normally calm and I don’t think there was any difference.

GB: How much do the coaches work with Aziz’s post moves? Is he reaching a wall in your opinion?

PA: I think they work with him a lot, especially Paul Fortier. Has he hit a wall? Maybe. He didn’t play ball last year, he’s playing at a higher level than ever before, and he’s playing more games than ever before and even playing more minutes. I’m not going to say anything new here, but when he plays against the zone it’s something different for him. Last game, though, he has 9 rebounds and that was big. Offensively it is a work in progress. Gauge him by his junior and senior year. If we’re talking about him like this next year, then there’s a problem. For this team he doesn’t need to shoot. His job needs to be to rebounds and defend around the rim. That should be enough.

GB: Has the demeanor of this team changed during practice this week?

PA: Not this crew. They understand where they’re at but they’re close to each other and enjoy being around each other. I haven’t seen any panic or worry from them this week.

GB: Look into your crystal ball. What does the rest of the Pac-10 season look like for the Huskies?

PA: I’m never good at these. I’ll say this, if they want to get to the tournament, then they have to win 5 of the remaining 8 games [7 vs. Pac-10]. I don’t even know if they’re going to make the tournament, which is crazy to be saying right now. There are no guarantees. I think with them being at home [for five games] that they are good enough to win all 5. If they go 5 and 3, that should do it.

GB: So you think 11-7 will get the Huskies into the tournament?

PA: They will have to win a couple games in the Pac-10 tournament, but I think three teams from the Pac-10 will make it. College basketball is down this year and it would be great if the Pac-10 season and tournament winners were different teams. I think three teams make it and Washington will be one.

GB: What are your thoughts on the Husky senior’s (MBA, Overton, Holiday) pro-potential?

PA: I can only go off of the people that I talk to and thankfully I still have a lot of scour friends. They’re telling me right now, none. That’s not me talking. Who has the best chance right now? Holiday. They’re thinking that at this level he is playing out of position. He will not be a small forward or power forward at the next level. He’ll be a shooting guard like Doug Christie, or the defensive “Kobe stopper”. Bryan-Amaning is 6’9 and there are a lot of 6’9 guys in league. For Venoy, it has been a struggle and that height thing will always be there. Last season, I would have thought [his chances were] higher because he was that lock down defender. Absent of that, I think he will struggle in terms of the NBA, but there are other options in terms of overseas or the D-league. I think all of them can make money professionally in this game but whether it will be in the NBA remains to be seen.

GB: Do you think there is any chance any player from this team will transfer this year?

PA: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, definitely.

GB: Who is your likely candidate?

PA: Oh boy. I knew I shouldn’t have said yeah.  There’s a possibility every year for transfers. Last year I had no idea that Clarence Trent would transfer. There are a lot of guards, and it’s almost easier to say who wouldn’t [transfer]. Scott Suggs wouldn’t. Isaiah is not going to transfer, but will he go to the league? I don’t think he’ll do that either. Both of them will be seniors so I don’t see that. Then you’re looking at C.J. after redshirting, I don’t see him doing that. So then you’re looking at Terrence Ross. That, by the process of elimination, is where you go. Is he going to see Tony [Wroten] and Hikeem [Stewart] coming in? I don’t know. We didn’t even talk about Abdul [Gaddy]. Abdul coming off an injury and then transferring seems odd, but he would still have a redshirt year. So really, the only candidates are Gaddy and Ross.

GB: What do you say to the people who always call for Romar’s head when the times are tough?

PA: I think it’s great. I do. I think it’s great. I think it’s fantastic because it shows where this program is. It really does. I covered the Bob Bender years and no one cared. You [Montlake Madness] weren’t around and I wouldn’t be doing this. We wouldn’t have this interview. There were 3,000 people in the building, if that. I think it’s great and Romar knows it. It comes with the territory and it’s why he gets paid the big bucks. I don’t feel sorry for him at all and I tell him that. It’s all part of the package. It shows where this program has come. I also tell those people to be careful for what you wish for. You can bring somebody in here and it doesn’t work.

GB: What is the next big step for Romar and the Washington program?

PA: The next step is the Elite Eight. We talked about it before the season. The next step is taking this program that he has built to be good to be great. How do you do that? I don’t know. They are very good and have got some recruits in and are now competing with the powerhouses [for recruits] which they never had done before. It’s a bottom line business and it’s unfair to think that a couple of games in March define you as a person and a professional, but it does. He has to get this team peaking at the right time. Some people wouldn’t even mind the stumbles now or losing Pac-10 title or tournament if [Romar] can get them peaking at the right time and win three or four games.

GB: Ken Bone and Cameron Dollar have left within the last few years. How much do you think this has affected the on-court play and the coaching staff itself?

PA: I didn’t see that question coming. Well I have to think that it has some effect, but at the same time they replaced them with some quality people. Raphael Chillious is a fantastic coach and Paul Fortier is a fantastic coach as well. This program is built around Romar. It’s his program and everyone else just contributes to it. I hear those stories that Cameron [Dollar] brought in all of the recruits and Bone was the in-game strategist. Whatever. This is Romar’s program and it’s his vision and his idea. He wanted it fast paced and up and down. He told his guys to find me people to get this done. I think they’ve replaced those guys with some quality individuals. Chillious is able to recruit in a way that Washington hasn’t ever been able to in the past. Also, I think Paul Fortier is a head coach and it’s just a matter of time.

GB: How do you think the new practice facility will impact the program?

PA: Big in terms of recruiting. I have to chuckle at all of this. I’m a taxpayer and I just bought a house. I can get a cynical with the arms race. One school gets this so we need this. I almost find it humorous to hear guys who have played in this conference to say ‘Oh, we need this’. Well, you played and didn’t have it and you did just fine, but I get it. I think it will help in terms of recruiting. The new facility will be north of 15 million dollars. Anytime you build a multi-million dollar facility it’s going to impress an 18 year old kid. Arizona has new locker rooms and they’re nice, but I will say this: Matthew Knight Arena is a palace. A palace, it’s absolutely fantastic. It is incredible and it looks good, feels good, but again its 227 million dollars. Is it really affecting the average taxpayer? I would imagine no, probably not. The arms race makes me chuckle in a sense.

GB: If you had a son and he was a top high school recruit and he asked you what the Washington basketball program was like, what would you tell him?

PA: I would definitely send my son to play for Romar. I’m not a Husky fan, as I said earlier, but I really like that dude. He is a fantastic human being and I don’t say that just because I cover him. I’ve covered a lot of coaches. My favorite coach that I’ve ever covered is Nate McMillan. We are still in contact today and we are friends and I still hang out with him, but I don’t know if I ever will get that way with Romar, but he is just a quality individual. He has time for everybody and he is as you see him while not being disingenuous. In college basketball, he plays the game, but he does it the right way. Now that being said, you also have to know your kid too. I’m not saying that every kid is right for Romar and his system. If you’re someone who is one of the top 5 recruits and you think you can go to the league after one year, then maybe Romar isn’t right for you. He’s not a one-and-done type of coach. He is all about the long term project and building his players up. He’s not the coach for everybody, but he’s a fantastic guy and a great coach.

GB: How will Tony Wroten fit in next year?

PA: I think this one fact will make him work: that Tony Wroten chose Washington. His love of Washington will make it work. Now, obviously as observers, we can kind of see where there might be some conflict, but you cannot discount the fact that chose Washington and wanted to be there. He feels a very strong connection to that school and I think he feels a connection to Romar. In terms of minutes, it’s going to be fascinating. If Isaiah comes back and Gaddy comes back from injury, it’s going to be fascinating. Tony has a big personality and Isaiah has a big personality and Gaddy is going to want to squeeze between them and get his deal there. It will be interesting. Isaiah right now, at the point guard spot, is working. Tony likes the ball in his hands, and Gaddy likes the ball in his hands and there is only one ball. We’ll see how that works.

GB: You also have Hikeem Stewart and Andrew Andrews coming in next year. Are they definitely redshirting candidates if the roster doesn’t change?

PA: We don’t even know if Andrew Andrews is even going to make it in. He might go to a prep school for one year. Hikeem, right now, look like a redshirt possibility however I’m sure he’s got ambitions on playing as well. This year Washington has had three point guards and I imagine that Romar is going to keep a similar type of rotational system.

GB: With the loss of MBA next year and the lack of a true replacement, do you see a smaller starting line-up?

PA: It’s possible. It’s hard to say right now because recruiting is not over. I think this weekend is huge in terms of impressing a young man from San Diego. If they can land Angelo Chol it will seem to solve a big part of it. A problem with hyping up these young kids is that I have never seen him play. I’ve seen highlights and his YouTube videos. You and I could look good in a YouTube video. Put me in super slow-mo and I’ll look great. Is he ready to step in MBA’s shoes from this year? That’s asking a whole lot out of a kid out of high school, so immediately I see a hole there. You would think Darnell Gant would slide in. He’s a fifth year senior and there has never been one at Washington under Romar. Never happened. He should be the guy. Is he going to be the guy and commit himself to rebounding? We’ve seen it in spurts and I think that kid should look at Kevin Garnett film and get that high post jumper. Granted, he’s not seven foot, but a smaller version of KG. There is a hole there and it will look different. I think Romar has liked his big look this year and so I don’t think he wants to ‘regress’ into what they used to do and play small ball. In the past, I felt he had to play small because he didn’t have the type. Now he has his seven footer in the middle and he wants to play big. I’m always going to lean toward the fifth year guy.

GB: How does Desmond Simmons fit into the mix next year?

PA: Lately, in practice, it has been interesting to see the coaches working on his ball handling skills a lot. They will do this drill where they have him dribbling two basketballs up and down the court. He’s 6’7 and is bigger than Quincy Pondexter was at the same age. Desmond is not a thin dude. I saw him this summer and he was killing these guys. Killing them with hustle. I thought he was going to embarrass people because he just works and hustles. He reminds me of Quincy Pondexter in his junior year. Going into the summer, they’re going to tell him to work on his ball handling and start to feel comfortable in the mid-range.

GB: Kevin Davis from Tacoma Community College. Have you seen him play?

PA: I’ve talked to his high school coach and his coach at TCC about him. Romar likes him because he believes Davis can fit his system. Again, he’s a thin guy that can get up and down the court. He will remind a lot of people of MBA. In Romar’s system you have got to be able to get up and down the court and Kevin Davis can run like a gazelle. We’ll see what happens there. I don’t know where he falls and there are so many questions, but he can fit into the mix.

GB: If you could assemble a starting five from any five Huskies in history, who would they be?

PA: Wow. This might take me a little while. Now see, this is not fair because I haven’t seen everyone play. The first guy I think of would be Romar. I would love to see Romar in the short-shorts at point guard with Nate [Robinson] at the two guard. [Laughs]. Just to see how that combination would work. These aren’t the best players of all time, but just a time that I’d like to see. A guy that I have always enjoyed was Deon Luton at then three. He was all about Deon. Sweet shootin’ Deon Luton. At the four, I would take Christian Welp, and that five I would pick big Todd McCullough. I really would love to see Romar and Nate interact. I’ve never seen Romar play in his prime.

GB: If you had to pick the most talented husky team in the last decade, which team would you pick?

PA: That 29 win team, hands down. I was just talking to Jamaal Williams about that team. I was covering the Sonics at the time, but I poured over the record books and I can appreciate what they did. They didn’t have any one star and that the thing that Jamaal was trying to tell me. They didn’t really lean on any one guy for too long of a stretch, not even Brandon. They were undersized, scrappy, chip on their shoulder, mean, and if you weren’t a Husky fan you probably didn’t like them. Will and Nate talked major trash. The proof is in the pudding, though, that they won 29 wins. You cannot sneeze that that.  Even in this day in age, with all of the creampuff schedules, that’s impressive.

GB: Thanks for all of your time, Percy. Anything you want to say to our readers?

PA: As I said earlier, it’s just fascinating that all of this is happening right now and I think it’s great. We all feed off of each other and I get a kick out of all of this and its fun. It’s amazing to see how this program has grown and we’ll see what happens. It will be very interesting and it won’t be dull.