HUNTINGTON — Reaction to Sonny Allen’s death was on local and national scales Saturday.
Allen, 84 and a former Marshall University basketball player and assistant coach, died from complications of Parkinson’s disease Friday morning in Reno, Nevada, where he lived.
The fast-break offense Allen learned from Cam Henderson at Marshall was legendary in NCAA circles.
“Sonny was a fast break visionary,” said college basketball analyst and former coach Fran Fraschilla.
ESPN basketball analyst John Gasaway credited Allen with developing offensive strategies used today.
“(Former Los Angeles Lakers coach) Paul Westhead studied what Allen did circa 1972 and put those high-scoring principles to work at Loyola-Marymount with Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble.”
Allen played at Marshall from 1954 through 1958 and was an all-Mid-American Conference selection in 1957-1958. He was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 1996.
A successful head coach at Old Dominion, SMU and Nevada, Allen led ODU to the NCAA Division II national championship in 1975. He twice coached Nevada to the NCAA Tournament. Allen also coached in the NBA, CBA and WNBA.
He is survived by wife Donna, daughters Jackie Eldrenkamp, Kelly Marcantel and Jennifer Allen, along with stepchildren Jimmy Warner and Tedi Holdmann.
As much as Allen was admired for his coaching abilities, he drew even more praise for his off-court persona.
“Sonny was one of the first coaches I met at Marshall,” Thundering Herd men’s basketball coach and former MU player Danny D’Antoni said. “He was the innovater of the numbered break. He was a great coach, but he was an even better person. He’ll be missed.”
Rick McCann, former sports editor of The Herald-Dispatch and longtime Marshall basketball beat writer said he was sorry to hear of Allen’s death.
“That’s sad news,” McCann said. “I knew he had been sick for a while. Sonny was a fine man.”
Bryan Samudio of ESPN Radio and a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame said he will miss Allen.
“(I’m) very sad to hear of the passing of Sonny Allen,” Samudio said. “He was nothing but a kind and gentle man to me every time we saw each other. Truly a lost legend.”
Harry Minium of the Virginia Pilot newspaper recalled Allen’s interview at Old Dominion in 1965.
“He asked if he could recruit black players,” Minium said. “Had he been told no, he wouldn’t have taken the job. He integrated Virginia college basketball by recruiting Buttons Speakes and Bob Pritchett.”
Stetson University assistant and former Marshall player Adam Williams said his dad Tex Williams and Allen were close.
“The coaching community lost a giant,” Adam Williams said. “Coach Allen and my dad have been close since the late 1950s at Marshall. He was always so kind to me. A great coach and a greater man.”