Despite receiving recruiting mail from schools like Boston College, Allen began his career at Baltimore’s Essex Community College to strengthen his grades. Despite a stellar freshman year, Allen was troubled by the fact that Tammy – who gave birth to Allen Jr. right after they both graduated from Patterson – was struggling to provide for their infant child.
“Stuff was getting tight at home, and it just got to the point where I needed to take care of my family,” says Allen.
He got a job as a delivery helper on a Baltimore Gas and Electric truck, lugging and installing washing machines, air conditioners and refrigerators. The young couple, which could now afford a small apartment, got married and went about raising a family.
Although no longer a ticket out of the struggling neighborhood, competing in local basketball tournaments nourished him after arduous, back-breaking days on the job.
“Every time I had a game, I’d walk into the gym with Aquille sitting on my shoulders and Allen Jr. and my daughter Ashlie walking right beside me,” says Allen.
“I remember that my father could jump for real,” adds Aquille. “I saw how aggressive he was going to the basket. Watching him, I couldn’t wait to play under the whistle.”
Allen put little Aquille on teams in the eight-and-under age bracket at the age of five while he and Allen Jr. trained him at home.
“When I took him to play in games, people would be laughing and ask, ‘Why is that little boy out there?’” says Allen. “But after the game, they’d come up to me and say, “Shorty’s gonna be alright.’”
At home, Allen Jr., who is 10 years older, marked a small square on the kitchen’s linoleum floor, demonstrating moves for his little brother to replicate.
“If the ball went out of the square, that meant it was a turnover,” says Allen Jr. “After each move that he mastered, he’d add his own little flair to it. He’d do something extremely difficult in a game, in traffic, and he’d look at me as if to say, ‘Is that right?’ That would amaze me.”
Once, at Baltimore’s famed playground venue known as “The Dome” when he was 10, Aquille zoomed down court with a defender squatting at the three-point line to halt his momentum. He never broke stride, dribbled the ball between his opponent’s legs, caught it off the bounce and swished the game-winning jumper. Grown folks sprinted on the court screaming in a state of delirium.
“He was the talk of the town way before he got to high school,” says Genelle McCoy, one of his former recreation league coaches and a current mentor.
“He never played against kids his own age,” says James Johnson, a family friend who played against Allen Sr. in high school. “Aquille always had the heart of a lion. He was an asset on the court, even back then against grown men, because of his ability to handle the ball, penetrate, and dish off.”
“Aquille was so competitive from the beginning that his desire to win would get the better of him,” adds Allen Jr. “We said things to get him upset and pushed him around on purpose, so he could perform under pressure when he was angry.”
But while his skills were drawing rave reviews on the court, his periodic, irate outbursts made many parents and competing coaches snicker. If he disagreed with something, he’d sometimes scream profanities at referees – and even some of his coaches – during games.