2010 ACC Men's Basketball Legends: Will Allen, Miami
Feb. 25, 2010
The 2010 ACC Basketball Legends class is a group of 12 former standout players - one from each ACC school - who will be honored during the 2010 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament. TheACC.com will feature two members of the ACC Legends Class each week during the six weeks prior to the tournament.
The annual ACC Legends Brunch will be held on Saturday, March 13 beginning at 10 a.m. Hosted by television personalities Tim Brant and Mike Hogewood, the ACC Men's Basketball Legends Brunch will be held in the in the Guilford Ballroom of the Sheraton Four Seasons Hotel.
As prestigious as ACC Legend status may be, Will Allen has already surpassed it in 2010.
The former Miami Hurricane has made a bigger name for himself in the dirt than on the court. An urban farmer, entrepreneur and activist, Allen was chosen last month to help the White House promote a campaign to combat obesity in children. He traveled to Washington, D.C., addressed a group and turned the podium over to First Lady Michelle Obama.
“We need to have a garden at every school,” Allen said.
It’s merely the latest honor on a wall of them for Allen, whose life is defined by basketball the way Arthur Ashe was defined by tennis or Bono has been classified by music.
“The University of Miami community is tremendously proud of what Will Allen has accomplished,” said Kirby Hocutt, the school’s director of athletics. “He has used his life to empower and enrich so many people’s lives – and there is not a more noble goal than that. We are truly honored that he will be representing the University of Miami as this year’s ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Legend.”
All of this is not to say the hoops stuff was inconsequential. The son of a South Carolina sharecropper, Allen grew up in Rockville, Md., and became the first African-American basketball player in University of Miami history. He averaged 17.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, and he still ranks 17th on the Canes’ career scoring chart with nearly 1,300 points in only three seasons. (Freshmen were ineligible by NCAA rules at the time.)
He scored 20 or more points in 28 of his 75 career games. With another season, he’d have easily eclipsed the 2,000-point mark. He was the Canes’ leading scorer and rebounder as a senior.
Allen’s distinguished tenure in Coral Gables was largely forgotten because of bad timing. It started four years after Rick Barry played his final game, and it was followed shortly – and through no fault of Allen’s – by an administrative decision. Citing high costs, the university disbanded the basketball team a few weeks after Allen’s senior season of 1970-71. (Basketball remained dormant until the mid-1980s, and 20 years after their revival, the Hurricanes joined the ACC for the 2004-05 season.)
Allen kept going, however. In 1971-72, he played seven games for the ABA’s Floridians, a vagabond outfit that split its home schedule between Miami Beach and Tampa Bay and folded after the season.
That turned out to be the key to Allen’s future. He played the next five years in Belgium, where he would spend off days in the countryside marveling at farmers’ ability to generate crops with compost piles. Sure, that’s not everybody’s idea of a good time, but Allen has made it work for him.
After a marketing career with Proctor & Gamble, he retired and got into agriculture by buying farmland owned by his wife’s family. From there, he purchased Growing Power, a nursery that was as good as bankrupt.
It’s an odd place for an agricultural revolution. Three blocks from Wisconsin’s largest housing project, a 726-unit facility known as Westlawn, Allen preaches the gospel of home-grown produce. He says corporate America does the populace an injustice by serving up convenient, fatty food that is virtually unavoidable.
“When we look at our inner cities, we see areas where major grocery stores have decided they’re not going to put stores,” Allen told the Washington audience. “Our folks have no place to go but the corner stores, which have a lot of really bad food, and fast-food restaurants.”
Farmers have been displaced by suburban expansion that isn’t going away. Rather than simply lament, Allen said there’s still a way to maximize the land that does remain. He lionizes worms, which turn seemingly worthless land into fertile ground. He uses them as the tacit keynote speakers of educational seminars that inspire attendees to get dirty.
The advocacy has not gone unnoticed. In the past five years, three major foundations have given Growing Power a total of $1 million to create jobs and generally continue a message that says we’re not beholden to the mass-production world.
The work keeps Allen busier than the worms he embraces. Speaking engagements are scheduled to take him to Lynchburg, Va., Seattle, Vancouver, St. Louis, New York, Miami and Cincinnati this year. If you want him to address your group, you’ve got to wait until 2011.
“Everybody seems to be coming together: corporations, universities, political folks,” Allen said at the White House. “They’re all coming together to sit at the table with folks like farmers. And that’s important. We have to make sure everybody’s on the same page. We can’t just blame each other. What we need is action because our kids are suffering.”