When he was growing up, first in Guttenberg, later in West New York, then back in Guttenberg again, Noel Allen wasn’t much of a basketball player.
“I never played any organized basketball,” said Allen, a senior at North Bergen High School. “I wasn’t any good anyway. I was out of shape and never took it seriously. I played a little in the schoolyards or in Veterans Park [in Guttenberg], but not really that much and I never even gave any thought to playing organized basketball.”
By the time Allen got to seventh grade at Anna L. Klein School in Guttenberg, he had grown to a robust 6-foot-2, but was still on the heavy side. Teachers at the school thought Allen might become more of a football player, because of his husky stature. Basketball was a complete afterthought.
“In seventh grade, the Klein School coach [Kelvin Perdomo] made me the team manager,” Allen said. “That was the first time I did anything with basketball. I used to have to collect the balls, fill water bottles, maybe keep score.”
A year later, Perdomo put Allen on the Klein School team and had him play on one of the area’s top grade school programs. It was a move that turned out to reap major benefits.
“I really didn’t think I was good, but I found out that I liked playing,” Allen said.
At the time, North Bergen head coach Kevin Bianco remembered seeing Allen play – or at the time, try to play.
“He was a big kid and seemed to be grasping the game a little,” Bianco said. “He seemed like he was starting to get into the game.”
So by the time Allen arrived at North Bergen, Bianco had big plans for him. Allen was put on the varsity team when he was a freshman, playing every day with such standouts as former All-Area performer Xavier Silva and former Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year Evan Rodriguez.
“That year with them really helped me,” Allen said. “I really wanted to get better and play like them.”
Allen then was stung hard by the basketball bug. He went to that same Veterans Park near his Guttenberg home and played basketball every day, but this time, with a purpose.
“I would be at the park every day, a lot of the times by myself,” Allen said. “I would work on my dribbling, my shooting, my jumping. I used to be the only one there in the hot summer sun, working every day.”
“When he first came to us, he didn’t have much experience and didn’t have to do much,” Bianco said. “We just asked him to rebound and play some defense. But he just kept getting better and better.”
Allen lost the baby weight and grew three inches to 6-5. He became quicker and developed into a good leaper. More importantly, his basketball skills grew along with him.
“I got stronger and better,” Allen said. “My confidence grew. I just felt a lot better.”
Allen had a decent sophomore year, but he exploded as a player a year ago, averaging close to 18 points per game and 10 rebounds per contest, earning Hudson Reporter Second Team All-Area honors.
But no one could have predicted what Allen has become this season. He’s taken the next step up to become an elite player, one of the best in the entire state, compiling scoring numbers that have been rarely seen in North Bergen’s rich basketball annals.
Allen is averaging close to 28 points per game this season, but recently, he’s been on a consistent scoring tear that is almost too amazing for words.
Allen scored 31 points in three consecutive games, wins against High Tech and Dickinson and a loss to St. Peter’s Prep. He scored 28 in a win over Lincoln and capped his run with a 35-point effort against Hoboken – a game where Allen didn’t even play in the fourth quarter.
It’s a scoring streak that has been seen in North Bergen perhaps only twice before – by the legendary Danny Callandrillo in 1978 and by all-time Hudson County scoring leader and Puerto Rican National team player Rick Apodaca in 1999.
“I don’t know if anyone has done that on consecutive nights, getting 30 every night,” Bianco said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
For his efforts, Allen has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Bianco said that Allen’s game has improved leaps and bounds over his career. He is also averaging more than 15 rebounds per contest as well.
“He’s getting baskets around the rim, but now, he’s also knocking down shots from outside,” Bianco said. “He can hit the three [point shot]. It also helps that our kids are getting him the ball and playing off him. They’re letting him operate and we don’t mind that at all. His teammates know that they have to get Noel the ball.”
Bianco said that Allen’s off-season regimen prepared him for the incredible improvement this season.
“He still spends four days a week in the weight room so he could get stronger,” Bianco said. “He’s taking the game very seriously. He just keeps working on his overall game and keeps improving.”
It’s not easy for Allen to find the time to work on his basketball skills, because Allen has a younger brother who is autistic and helps to care for him.
“He just does what we ask of him,” Bianco said. “He’s just a great kid.”
However, if there is a place where Allen needs improvement, it’s his Scholastic Aptitude Test scores. Right now, Allen doesn’t have the score necessary to secure an NCAA Division I scholarship. It’s the only thing holding him back.
“I’m working on it,” Allen said. “I can feel it. It’s so right there. That’s what is really driving me right now.”
“We’ve had some calls from local schools like St. Peter’s and NJIT,” Bianco said. “The first thing they ask about is Noel’s test scores. It’s all he needs. It’s not about basketball. He’s been really dominant and I think the coaches all know he can play. Plus, he’s still learning, still grasping things about the sport, so I think he has a lot of potential. He’s learned a lot out there and he keeps improving.”
There’s another aspect to Allen’s incredible season – namely the Bruins’ record. They are currently 11-2 overall and this week, they were ranked No. 20 in the entire state in The Star-Ledger’s Top 20 poll.
“It means a lot,” Allen said. “It means all the hard work we put in is paying off. I knew that we would get there sooner or later.”
The Bruins have to be considered a threat in the upcoming Hudson County and NJSIAA Group IV tournaments.
“I feel we can take it, feel we can go all the way,” Allen said. “It’s very doable.”
As long as the former towel boy and basketball manager can take them.
“Yeah, those were the days,” Allen said. “I’m not handing out water bottles or picking up basketballs anymore. Those days are part of the past.”
And now, Noel Allen tries to create a piece of his own history. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.