Tiera Allen's move East a swish
Athletic talent helps Celtics star's daughter adjust fast in Wellesley
WELLESLEY, Mass. -- There's a simple pregame ritual that epitomizes how smooth Tierra Allen's transition to Wellesley High has been after moving up from South Carolina for her senior year.
Check that. It doesn't look that simple at all.
Before the tipoff of every Wellesley basketball game, Allen -- the daughter of Celtics star Ray Allen -- and Princeton-bound senior Blake Dietrick perform a lengthy handshake routine that entails a series of different hand slaps, fist bumps and gestures. To an outsider, it seems as if the two, who became fast friends both on and off the court, would have needed hours -- even days -- to perfect something so complex.
"Like two minutes," Dietrick said. "We did it in warm-ups. We probably should have been shooting, but we were practicing our handshake. It was a couple of days into tryouts, so after the first game we were like, 'We need a handshake.' She came up with it. It's pretty awesome."
It's just one example of the easygoing, sociable personality that's helped Allen fit into a situation that might cause some teenagers to go into a shell.
Meanwhile, she's helped Wellesley High to an 18-2 record so far with her strength in the middle and powered the girls vollyball team to a 14-3 first-place season.
"One thing that was on my side was playing on teams," Allen said. "Volleyball's first, so I automatically came in knowing people. And then basketball season came and now I know people. And just being in class, it all came together, starting with sports."
The reason for the move north, according to Allen, was to simply "get prepared for college. It's like a preparation time."
But it meant leaving her mother, Rosalind Ramsey, and friends in South Carolina for a senior year that most teenagers look forward to their entire time in high school.
"It's hard for her. She's still an 18-year-old kid who's transferring in from another place as a senior," said Wellesley girls basketball coach Kristin Cieri, whose Raiders will enter the Division 1 South tournament as a favorite to make a deep run.
"She's always lived in the south and she's very polite. With the kids, she fit right in," Wellesley athletic director John Brown said. "But it's a culture shock coming here. It's different here. [Wellesley High] is a pretty intense place. I can remember her coming in to see me at the end of August and saying, 'Sir, I can't believe you don't have air conditioning here.'"
"She's a good person," Cieri said. "She has the ability to handle that kind of stress in that situation and she does it very well. It's a tough situation to be in."
As tough as it may have been, Allen doesn't let on.
"It hasn't been hard because I've had the same friends since seventh grade," she said. "So it wasn't about, 'Oh, if I leave, I'm losing my friends' or anything, because I still talk to them and all. It wasn't a big deal."
But when news of Allen's transfer hit Wellesley and the Bay State Conference as a whole, it was a big deal indeed.
"When I was on vacation this summer, I got a call from [athletic director John Brown] that she had registered to play volleyball," Cieri said. "But I still didn't believe it until I saw her face the day after Thanksgiving, because that's the one transfer a coach always thinks is going to happen but never does. I'm the kind of person that goes with the worst-case scenario. So I was just saying, 'If she shows up, she shows up. If she doesn't, she doesn't.'"
"The rumors go pretty quick," said Natick coach Dan Hinnenkamp, whose squad lost both meetings with the Raiders this season. "There's quite a few pro players around here," including Celtics general manager Danny Ainge's son Cooper, who plays basketball at Wellesley. "Usually the rumors are more so than the reality. But often the rumors are enough to throw people off. So it definitely spread pretty quick."
Dietrick kept her fingers crossed about Allen's arrival, even though she had very little knowledge of her playing ability.
"We heard she was going to come up last year, but that never happened," Dietrick said. "And then the rumor started again and we said, 'Oh, it's probably just a rumor. She's not coming up.' And then she was on the volleyball team.
"I didn't get to play with her before the season started. First day of tryouts was the first day I ever met her," she said.
Cieri recalls that she knew she had a good player in Allen the second she walked in the gym. "You can see it," Cieri said. "She's got a presence. She's got great hands, soft shot and instincts.
"I knew from various sources who had seen her play that she was a good player," said Cieri. "I didn't know how good. I didn't know she would be this good. And she is. She's a great player with a good attitude."
But the scouting report on the 5-foot-11 forward is much different from the one on her father. She gives herself a modest evaluation.
"I don't know, I think I have a pretty good jump shot," she said. "I'm better in the post."
Tierra Allen's jumper is adequate, but she spends most of her time in the paint, where she uses exceptional strength to dominate the glass. Her court vision is superb, and while she is technically a forward, she has the feet of a perimeter player and can defend pretty much every position.
"She's a very competitive person," Ray Allen said of his daughter. "She really commands her position in volleyball. She's very powerful. In basketball, she's not a great shooter or dribbler but she can control underneath."
Ray Allen, who played volleyball growing up, said Tierra would like to play both volleyball and basketball in college, as Ray's sister did.
"She can play at some of the best volleyball schools," Ray Allen said. "But I think she wants to do both and that is a tough thing to do at a high, Division I school. It's a lot more demanding. She could probably do both if she went to a mid-major school."
"She's the best [volleyball] player we've had since I've been here," Brown said. "She hits the ball so hard. You don't want to be on the other end of it. She just has stuff different from everybody else. Her serves are just different than anyone else."
Ray said he isn't worried about Tierra, who has applied to 18 schools, according to her family, deciding on her next move.
"She's got a good head on her shoulders," Ray Allen said. "She can do her own thing. Hopefully, we've instilled the same values in her that my parents instilled in me."
Tierra brings an aggressive demeanor to the court, which may stem from her playing days in South Carolina , where she says the style of play differs from that in the Bay State .
"In the South, I think it's a lot more scrappy and harder and more physical," she said. "Here, it's more like," she pauses for effect, "jump shot."
The difference between the games of Tierra and her father might be most evident at the free-throw line. In a game against Walpole at the beginning of the season, Allen went 0-for-8 from the charity stripe, as her father, who has hit nearly 90 percent of his free throws over his 16-year NBA career, sat in the first row with a laidback yet focused expression.
"I wasn't really that focused before that game, so he understood that," Allen said. "So he was just, 'Calm down.' That was it."
Facing rival Natick a couple of weeks later, Allen scored only seven points, but was her usual force on the boards, with 11 rebounds, as the Raiders won comfortably.
That's how Allen seems to handle everything that comes her way -- comfortably. She's lived with her father only twice -- in eighth grade, when he was playing with the Seattle Supersonics, and this year. Maybe the experience in middle school helped her adjust to her new surroundings so easily this time. Facebook, too, has help keep her connected to friends in South Carolina.
"Maybe I can't do a phone call, but while I'm doing an essay or something, I can Facebook chat them really quick," Allen said of her friends in South Carolina . "I talk to everybody every day."
While she keeps in contact with her friends in the South, she seems like a native New Englander at times. As she walked to her car after the Walpole game, she laughed at how much school her Palmetto State counterparts were missing because of snow.
"They're such pansies!"
The comment, like her pregame handshake with Dietrick, showed how Allen has mastered a complex move quicker than any outsider could expect.
Celtics writer Peter May contributed to this story.