Marcus Morris' Basketball Journey, Part 2: Longtime bond with Celtics assistant Jerome Allen comes full circle

Josue Pavon
March 15, 2019 - 10:24 am

This is part two of a three-part series centered on Celtics forward Marcus Morris' career and role with the 2018-19 Celtics

Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen is walking down the hall of Madison Square Garden, precisely one hour before tip-off.

He starts to speed up, and then looks back.

"Damn, I missed Mook. Let's go out there," he says before stopping in front of the visitors' locker room where Celtics guard Marcus Smart and forward Gordon Hayward are standing.

 "(Is) he ready?" Allen asks the two.

"He will be," Smart replies.

"Who, Mook?" Hayward interjects. "Yeah he just finished like a second ago. He went to go check the time on the clock."

Allen jogs down the hallway and makes his way to the court. Unlike TD Garden, MSG doesn't have a shot clock – one that typically counts down the minutes until the beginning of the National Anthem and players' introductions – conveniently outside the visitors' locker room. He's not sure if the clock reads 75:00 – the time Allen is supposed to be out on the court – or if it's well after. Allen is hoping it's well before. He finds Marcus Morris, aka "Mook," near the Knicks home floor, they make eye-contact and get right into their pregame routine.

Morris stands just outside the paint and signals for a pass from Allen before making a post move for a layup. This lasts for about five minutes from both ends of the paint before he eventually plays 1-on-1 against Allen and the two share a laugh as they take turns scoring on one another. It's how they wrap up each pregame workout.

Allen has been working with Morris since 2017, when Morris was dealt to Boston, but the two have known each other for over 15 years. They first met in North Philadelphia, a part of Philly that isn't an easy place to grow up. Morris was barely a teenager when he and his twin brother, Markieff, met Allen, a local legend known as one of the few players from Philly (and UPenn) to reach the NBA.

"I remember growing up when I first started playing; 'Pooh Allen, Pooh Allen, Pooh Allen!' everybody was cheering," Morris remembers. "He had this move and it was called 'The Pooh Allen,' some people call it 'The Shammgod' but we never called it 'The Shammgod.' He used to do it and every kid wanted to do it. Every kid, even me; I used The Pooh Allen. Throw the ball out there; snatch it away – that's The Pooh Allen."

Shammgod Wells, later and better known as God Shammgod, became a legend in New York City deploying Allen's signature move, though there's no evidence one was aware of the other. Teenagers all over the Northeast practiced the showstopper, a deceiving crossover dribble that tempts a defender to grab what appears to be a loose ball before the ball handler pulls it back with his opposite hand and blows by. It's a move that Morris and others in his neighborhood say belonged to Philly's own 'Pooh' Allen, even though to this day around the world it's simply known as, "The Shammgod." 

Now an assistant with Brad Stevens, Allen was given the nickname 'Pooh' by his aunt when he was a baby. She claimed Allen loved Winnie the Pooh and the alias has stuck ever since.

As for the dribble move that made him famous around town, Allen learned it when his assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Fran O'Hanlon, pulled him and backcourt mate Matt Maloney aside and showed them a move that he believed would help break opposing guards and keep big men off balance. Allen worked on it for hours and turned the ball over many times before eventually perfecting it.

It turned into his signature move and when an unlikely victim of the devastating crossover bit on national television, it was the first time Allen earned recognition and praise for it.

"It got really popular when I was on the USA team playing in the Goodwill Games and guys saw me do it on a national level against Kevin Johnson, who was the starting point guard of the Phoenix Suns, while I'm still in college," Allen remembers. "So by the time I got back to Philly that summer, the whole city was in uproar."

Morris admired "Pooh" as a kid. Learning about Allen's journey to the pros was the very first time Morris wondered if he could follow a similar path out of the rough neighborhood of North Philadelphia,  a city filled with violence, drugs and gang activity.

 "He's one of the few players that made it out that's actually from the hood," Morris said. "He's actually from the ghetto, he's actually been home, he actually knows what it's like to not depend on drugs and not having a father, you know; everything's handicap. You already one step behind and that was one of the guys that I admired because despite it, he took care of his entire family."

Allen was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the second round of the 1995 draft and later had an extensive career overseas playing in countries like France, Turkey and Italy – where he earned MVP honors in the 2000 Italian Basketball Supercup. However, during the offseason, Allen spent his time giving back to his community.

He funded The H.O.O.D. Enriched Summer Program, a mission that granted inner-city kids the opportunity to succeed in academics and athletics in between school years and it eventually led to him crossing paths with Morris, an adolescent in the beginning stages of honing his skills on the court.

"If you ever ask him, he'll say 'I took care of 15 people. 15 people! I made sure 15 people ate, had clothes' and stuff like that!'" Morris said with a laugh. "I admire that about him. Coming here was a blessing to be able to actually have him coach me and sit right beside on the bench. I sit next to him every game. Everybody knows that's my seat. Everybody knows don't sit there, Mook's going to sit next to "Pooh" and we're going to chop it up and sometimes, (expletive) we be in the game not even talking about the game. And that's something that I've never had in this league, I've never had a coach that really, genuinely cared about me.

"I've had guys that actually cared about me, say they did, but to actually genuinely care, genuinely know where I came from, genuinely know my family, know my surrounding, my upbringing and stuff like that. Yeah, that's my man."

H.O.O.D., which stands for: Helping Our Own Develop, led to the first encounter between Allen and Morris. Little did they know, years later they would reunite in the NBA.

"We did a lot of work in Philly," Allen said. "Myself, I had two other guys that I worked with. They were kind of my mentors. We started a bunch of programs for kids, we took them to Europe, we had summer job programs for them, we had math and reading enrichment programs for the kids and if parents wanted, had them get assessed to see if they were on age-grade appropriate levels.  We played a bunch of basketball, took them all over the country."

Now, Allen believes the two North Philadelphia natives were meant to reconnect. The trade that sent Morris to Boston in 2017 formed a friendship that they both cherish – one enriched with trust, honesty and mutual respect.

"I don't believe God makes any mistakes," Allen said. "It's been awesome to watch his career prior to here, but it's really been great to have a front row street, watch him on a daily basis, grow and become who he's become. I think we have an exceptional relationship, probably because it's my job, but just our connection from Philadelphia just adds to it."

The two often spend time together outside of basketball. Allen visits Morris' home on weekends, including Super Bowl LII in 2018, where they celebrated the Eagles' victory over the Patriots.

On the court, Morris has turned his second year with the Celtics into the best of his career. He's averaging 14.5 points and six rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor – all career-best marks.

It's also the final year of his current four-year deal, which puts him in line for a big payday this summer. Allen understands there's a chance Morris' next contract could take him elsewhere. It's a topic the two often joke about.

While Allen would love to see Morris stick around, he also doesn't want Morris' impending free agency to take away from focusing on this year and striving to be a better player for his team.

"In Philly's slang, any time you see someone, you  might say, 'let me hold something,' and it's not necessarily because you want something or need something, but it's just to engage," Allen explained.

But Morris typically laughs it off and the two get back to focusing on basketball.

"What I've tried to do is stay in the moment and focus on what's right in front of us," Allen said. "Trust that whatever God has for him will be for him and not to carry any anxiety or pressure on the next shot, the next game, the next pass or the next contract. Stay in the moment, keep working, keep your head down, keep studying film, keep trying to figuring out how you can help this team win and if you can just cover those things, everything else will take care of itself."

Coming next: How Morris has overcome personal and professional challenges throughout his career.