COMMENTARY| Basketball is a way of life in the crime-ridden city of Flint, Mich. Athletes can flourish and make their dreams come true, or they can fall victim to the harsh realities of running the streets of one of America's most-violent cities.
Flint has produced college basketball greats like Northern's Mateen Cleaves, Northwestern's Morris Peterson and Southwestern's Charlie Bell. Players like Jeff Grayer, Craig Tucker and others made their names in "Vehicle City," too. There is a laundry list of greats from Flint, including several women, who left a lasting impact and legacy on the playgrounds and gymnasiums across the town built from the fruits of General Motors.
However, there are just as many who slipped through the cracks, letting the street lifestyle ruin any type of future success on the court. Such was the case for former Northwestern standout Jody Allen, who was gunned-down Sunday in Flint. The shooter has yet to be identified.
Allen, aged 34, could have been like Cleaves, Peterson, Antonio Smith and Marquise Gray -- each of whom had respectable collegiate careers and stints in the NBA or other professional leagues. Instead, Allen chose a risky path, brushing aside a career at Vincennes (Indiana) to return to his old neighborhood. And it may have cost him his life. A long rap sheet of drug activity and other criminal action overshadows what Allen could have done with basketball. It's a shame, too.
"He put you in that Allen Iverson mind-frame," Cleaves, a Michigan State hoops legend, told Eric Woodyard of The Flint Journal. "He was small, but he didn't back down from nobody and he had that Flint-town swagger and that confidence about his game.
"He's definitely one of the best guards that I've played against in high school. In our era, he's right up there."
Peterson, Cleaves' teammate on the 2000 NCAA national title team at Michigan State, had similar feelings regarding Allen's potential.
"I think he may have been one of the most talented guys out of Flint that didn't make it to the NBA," Peterson told Woodyard. "He really was a big part of my recruiting process because he made the game so much easier for me because all I had to do was run the floor and get open."
The dangers of Flint are well-documented. But so is its rich prep hoops tradition. As mentioned, dreams can be achieved if the right road is traveled. As devastating and sad as Allen's story is, there are youngsters that have helped Flint maintain its reputation of producing great players.
Players like Beecher's two-time All-Stater Monte Morris carry the torch and represent all that is good about Flint. Former Hamady standout Roy Jackson just completed a junior-college career. And there are plenty more floating around various levels of college hoops, hoping to put their Flint-inspired stamp on the game of basketball.
In Flint, being a "Flintstone," and representing the city on the court is a rite of passage.
Allen's story is a somber reminder of how easy it is to let talent go to waste. With a community divided and grief-stricken over his senseless death, Allen will be remembered for either his grace and athleticism on the court, or his poor lifestyle choices which could have contributed to his death.
If anything positive can come from Allen's demise, it's that the youth of Flint will take the time to fully analyze what's around them. Hopefully, Allen's death will open eyes and prevent others from going astray as he did.
There is a "Dream Chasers" benefit in Allen's memory at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stewart Elementary in Flint. All of the proceeds will be used to fund Allen's burial and other funeral services.
If you have information about Allen's death, please do the right thing and call Crime Stoppers at 800-422-JAIL.
Information from The Flint Journals' Eric Woodyard was used for this report.
Adam Biggers has lived in and around Flint nearly his entire life. He's closely followed area prep basketball for years. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mateen Cleaves
- Morris Peterson