Archive for Sunday, April 13, 2003

Mayer: Allen clan left quite a legacy

April 13, 2003


Death recently claimed the last member of the greatest father-son combination in Kansas basketball history. Dr. Bob Allen, son of Phog and brother of Mitt, died just as his beloved Jayhawks were beginning their latest NCAA Final Four venture. He was 83.

Phog died in 1974 at the age of 88. Mitt died shortly after KU won its second NCAA title in 1988. Man, did these guys spread a lot of good things over the landscape in their time with us! They were stimulating, electric, absolute delights to be around.

I'm not sure any basketball program you can name has a greater familial pedigree than the one created by this trio.

Dr. Forrest C. Allen is an indefinable legend, of course, the recognized father of basketball coaching. His elder son, Milton P., got a law degree and served as county attorney with distinction. Mitt was the rascally type but vibrant, entertaining, irreverent and exciting. He quarterbacked the 1934-36 Jayhawks to two conference titles and an Olympic playoff berth. He did it with flair and lilt, the way he lived, and more than once ran afoul of his daddy.

Bobby was the conservative son, the bookworm who entered the field of medicine because a brother had died at the age of 14. Bobby saw how deeply the family grieved, wondered if something that wasn't done should have been done if only the right doctor had been available. So he became a doctor, a damned good surgeon, and he made a tremendous mark beyond basketball, same as Mitt.

Phog and Mitt locked horns frequently. Mitt didn't care for or recognize most training rules. When Doc caught him smoking or nipping a little, he did heavy penance. One of the wild stories about the brash and brassy Mitt is that once he challenged the old man to put on the boxing gloves in the basement.

Phog readily accepted the challenge, took the kid downstairs and turned him inside out. Mitt often admitted he wound up fighting to find the stairs to vault to safety -- maybe to the protecting arms of mother Bess.

Then Milton P. decided he couldn't handle playing for his celebrated (even in the 1930s) dad. So he transferred to Iowa State for a while and actually lived at the house of coach Louis Menze. You want to guess what penalties would be assessed a player, coach and school nowadays? Doc and Menze, by the way, were good friends.

I happened to cover some trials Mitt handled as county attorney, and he was often a wonder to behold. He was good with words, knew the law and was a terrific actor. Prosecutor Mitt and the late George Melvin, a celebrated guardian of wayside waifs, butted heads frequently. These were scenes to behold. No holds barred, bare-knuckle, crotch-kicking, then they'd meet in the hall and laugh it off, maybe even go out for a beer, or better.

When superstar Wilt Chamberlain came here as a freshman in 1955-56, he was stunned to find that some cafes, taverns and the like were not receptive to blacks. Like Phog, Mitt had a hand in recruiting the lofty, leery young Philadelphian, so Wilt turned to the barrister for advice.

He said Mitt, with his county attorney stature, told him: "Wilt you go into any place you choose around here and if they refuse you, we'll shut the thing down!" From that moment on, Wilt said, he never had a problem.

You'd go to war with Mitt or Bobby, who both served in the Navy in World War II, and, of course, Phog, who headed the draft board and was involved in a zillion other worthwhile activities around here. That included one of the finest osteopathic practices you ever saw. He could, literally, get people to get up from their beds and walk. If Mickey Mantle or Johnny Mize or Ted Williams were around, they'd agree. Doc miraclized all three, and many, many more.

You look up "perfect son" in the dictionary, and you might find a picture of Bobby Allen. He was a super student, No. 1 academic honor man while at KU, made all-league two seasons and started on the 1940 Kansas team that reached the NCAA finals against Indiana. It was Bobby who made the steal that set up the Howard Engleman basket that propelled KU past mighty Southern Cal in the national semifinals.

Kansas never had a more devoted fan (and fans) than Bob Allen and his family. They were always on the scene when the Jayhawks were in combat and nobody rooted harder for them. Bob also saw recall service during the Korean War.

Then there's that incomparable old man, the guy who in 39 years created a legacy for athletics, community service and all-around achievement that nobody in sports will ever top around here. Doc Allen also coached football, served as athletic director, helped start the Kansas Relays and helped build Memorial Stadium in 1921.

Hell, it's unfair to compare the fabric of Phog's overall contributions to that of anyone. For all his achievements, Roy Williams has been around only 15 years. Doc gave KU 39 terrific seasons and also excelled as a coach at Haskell, Baker and Warrensburg, Mo.

Along the way, Doc tutored such coaching stars as Dean Smith, Ralph Miller, Frosty Cox and Dutch Lonborg. Phog also helped Hall of Famer John McLendon, who had no prayer of playing in the 1930s because he was a "Negro." McLendon, from Hiawatha, had a brilliant college and AAU coaching career. Phog also broke the Big Seven color line in 1952 with Lavannes Squires from Wichita, then had Maurice King from Kansas City.

Doc Allen finally got his NCAA title, Bobby almost did in 1940 and Mitt triggered some of the finest teams in local annals. Anybody have a triumvirate of college nepotism that comes close to what these guys did, in sports and otherwise?

Man, they were fun!

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