Midway through the handshake line after a high school game a few years ago, an opposing player approached Tavon Allen with a pressing question.
"Did you really shoot with both hands?" the player asked. Then when Allen nodded yes, the player responded, "Wow, that's crazy."
Post-game conversations like that remain common for Allen because the Drexel guard's unconventional style of shooting often leaves defenders bewildered. Like switch hitters in baseball, two-footed players in soccer or ambidextrous players in tennis, Allen is comfortable using either hand, shooting foul shots and 3-pointers mostly with his left and pull-up jump shots inside the arc primarily with his right.
Allen's unusual shooting will be on display for a national audience Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden when Drexel faces fourth-ranked Arizona in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Ambidextrous shooting has proven effective this season for the willowy 6-foot-7 Allen, who has more than doubled his scoring average from his freshman season and is coming off a 21-point outburst in a win over Rutgers.
"People are in disbelief about the way I shoot, but I don't see it as that big of a deal," Allen said. "It just felt natural for me when I was younger. Outside in the backyard shooting around, I just tried it one day. It felt really good, so I kept doing it."
It's extremely rare to find basketball players equally comfortable shooting jump shots with either hand, but there is some precedent.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson switched to shooting primarily with his right hand on free throws and jump shots this offseason after middling results with his left in previous seasons. Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut is one of several big men virtually ambidextrous with their back to the basket in the post, though he shoots jumpers with his dominant hand.
Allen began dabbling with shooting with either hand at age 9 or 10, eventually getting so comfortable that he could shoot with his right when a defender was on his left or vice versa. Many youth coaches tried to persuade Allen to adopt a more conventional approach, but the New Haven, Conn. native preferred to stick with a method that was producing results.
"I played like that for a long time and it was comfortable for me. I didn't really want to change it up," Allen said. "People tried to tell me to use one hand, but I usually just didn't listen to them and did what I wanted to do."
Allen's ability to drain the three, score off the dribble and of course, shoot with either hand makes the versatile guard difficult matchup for opponents, but Drexel has other perimeter weapons too. Three other Drexel guards average double digits including 6-foot-2 Chris Fouch, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA this summer after missing almost all of last year with a broken ankle.
Though Arizona will enter Wednesday's game a heavy favorite to advance to a potential title game against Duke, the Wildcats would be wise not to overlook a Drexel team eager to avenge last season's disappointing 13-18 campaign. The Dragons only lost by five at UCLA in their season opener and since then have won at Illinois State and Rutgers and on a neutral floor against Southern Conference favorite Elon.
"We let last season get away from us, so we want to have a more positive year," Allen said. "Arizona is pretty athletic, but they're basketball players just like us. We're going to go there and give them all we got."
Allen was asked if he'd ever seen another player who shoots with both hands the way he does. He said he has not.
Surely neither has Arizona's backcourt, which will make Allen a bit more tricky to guard.
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