Allen extends pro basketball career
Monessen's Charel Allen was close to hanging up her high-tops, but after having her best statistical season, the thirst for a championship returned.
Allen's BC Levski team lost the championship series to her former team, Dunav 8806, 3-2. That left Allen wanting more.
“I went in thinking I would finish this year and that would be it,” Allen said. “Then I had such a great individual season. Teamwise, we went to the finals. But I feel that we should have won (the championship).”
In most European women's leagues, contracts are usually on an annual basis.
“I got offered a two-year contract,” the former Monessen High School star said. “I want nothing more than to be a champion. They're going to build around me and told me that I'm going to be the focal point.”
Allen, 27, was named the Player of the Year of the seven-team league's regular season. She was named Shooting Guard of the Year, Import Player of the Year and was named to the league's First Team. She finished the season averaging 18.1 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and over two assists and steals per game.
“The game has really slowed down for me,” Allen said. “I know now what people mean when they say that. I learned the system now and I don't have to go at one pace.”
The former Greyhound said she isn't sure what it is that allowed her to break out this season.
“I'm not sure what it is because I take the same mindset into each season ... I want to win a championship,” she said. “I can't say that I was more selfish because my game hasn't changed. I was just more comfortable in the system.”
This past season was her second with Levski. Last season, she admits she struggled with the acclimation process.
“I left Dunav and signed with an Israeli team after that season, but that didn't work out. Levski picked me up midseason,” the former Notre Dame star said. “Going into this season, I knew I would be the focus. I was able to start in the preseason. It's hard when you come to a team midseason, girls already have their roles. I didn't get enough practices early on and wasn't able to learn the other players' tendencies. This year, that wasn't an issue.”
Allen said her knowledge of the game and the experience and education on and off the court she received growing up and at Notre Dame have helped her along the way.
“Halftime speeches are usually all in Bulgarian,” Allen said of the language barrier. “Coach (Stefan Mihaylov) trusts me, though. With my knowledge of the game, I know what he's saying and what we need to do. If not, he'll translate for me later and let me know what I needed to do.”
The only American on her team, Allen said she has adopted Bulgaria as her second home. And she's hopeful pieces of her first home, Monessen, will get to experience the country.
“I'm really hoping that within these two years my mother can come and watch me play,” Allen said.
Rotina Johnson, her mother, and Lee Johnson, her stepfather, haven't had the opportunity to see Allen play professionally.
“I really want them to experience the country, the culture and the entire experience,” she said, adding with a laugh that the pair may fear the long flight to Europe.
The other thing she'd like them to experience is the fans.
“The fans get crazy and loud,” Allen said. “They can bring anything they want into the gym. Whistles, air horns, noisemakers ... there have been times that we've heard a whistle from the stands and just stopped playing. It's crazy. Depending on the game, if it's a rival, the crowd will throw things on the court.”
Allen said she'd like to use her knowledge of the game to get into coaching collegiately whenever she does decide to call it quits.
Giving back is something Allen aims to do each time she travels back to Monessen.
On June 28, she will hold her sixth annual Charel's Basketball Camp and Highlight Game at the Monessen High School gymnasium.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., kids ages 6 to 16 can learn from Allen and a number of guests and work on skills including shooting, ball-handling, defense, passing and rebounding. Terry Smith, who is from New York and plays professionally for the Jolly JBS in the Croatian league in Europe, will be the guest speaker. Cost is $20 if registered by June 18. Walk-ins are welcome, with a $25 fee at the door.
The annual highlight game gives Mon Valley fans the opportunity to see Allen play with special guests including Smith, former Greyhounds Brandon Jackson and Tim Tyree, Clairton's Rashawd Hattten, Ringgold's Ashley Campbell, and former Charleroi Area and European professional Eli Obade.
She also chooses the winner of the Charel Allen Character Scholarship, a $250 award to a Monessen senior who demonstrates great character and is “just a great person.” This year's winner was Justice Rawlins.
“To me, it's very important to give back to my community,” Allen said. “I don't get any money from the camp. I donate it to the girls' basketball program here and other charitable causes. I do it because that's what I feel like I need to do.”
For more information on the camp or to get an applicaton, contact Allen directly at 724-288-6706 or Rotina Johnson at 724-263-0157.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667.