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How Bec Allen transformed herself from a 'defensive liability' into a feared defender
It's been a hectic and challenging last six months for Bec Allen. We caught up with the star guard to chat all things Opals, her trade to Connecticut, injury rehab and much more.
Photo credit: FIBA
Bec Allen’s journey from being called a ‘defensive liability’ to one of the premier defensive guards in the world hasn’t always been easy —case in point has been the last six months of her career— but you know exactly what you’re going to get from her: 100% commitment to the cause.
Flashback to her rookie WNBA season in New York, Allen had a welcome to the league moment from then coach Bill Laimbeer – known for his straight talking and no-nonsense approach – that would ultimately set the tone for her career.
“When I came to the WNBA, my first year was with Bill Laimbeer in New York, he basically told me I can't play you until you show that you can play good defence,” Allen told The Pick and Roll.
“I was considered a defensive liability; those were his exact words.
“For me, if I wanted to play, I needed to work on that and it wasn’t just in that season, I had to work on it when I went to France the following year. I went to Lyon – and the French League is an incredible league – so that was a huge focus for me; okay, I need to better my defence and that's how I developed my minutes.
“What's so funny is that you can change the words of being a defensive liability to being a key defender on a team, being a lockdown defender and someone who is known for blocks and steals. I find that funny but also a credit to the work that I put in.”
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Whilst Allen is known for her defence and shooting, making her a bona fide two-way superstar, the whole of Australia (and the world for that matter) found out that she’s about so much more than just that at the World Cup. Having carried Australia to a fourth quarter lead against Serbia in a must-win game, Allen (16 points and 5 rebounds) took a strike to the ribs in an awkward contest for the ball with 2 minutes remaining in the game.
While she would sit out the next two games, somehow she returned in the knockout stage of the tournament and despite being clearly hampered by the injury, gave everything she had. She played just under 14 minutes in the heartbreaking semi-final loss to China and at the time it seemed like a superhuman effort considering the hit she’d taken just days prior, but in the coming days and weeks, the full extent of the injury would come to light; two fractured ribs and a partially collapsed lung.
“It was pretty hard [to play those games] if I’m being honest with you, and I was obviously on painkillers too,” she said. “If I’d have had the knowledge from the further scans showing what it actually was maybe it would have been a different decision.
“I played with what information [no structural damage] we all had at that point and that also sort of played into ‘okay I can push through this, I can do it’. The further imaging definitely showed why I was in that much pain.”
Playing through something like that just points to the commitment Allen has to the Opals and her absolute desire to do whatever is needed to help the team, even if that means playing through extreme pain.
It’s beyond belief that Allen played with two broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung in one of the most intense World Cup games we’ve ever seen. Not only did she play, she contributed strongly, including the signature block captured below.
Photo credit: FIBA
The road back from injury hasn’t been an easy one for Allen, who has stayed home in Melbourne to recover.
“This rehab is a journey of unknowns and I'm realising that more and more as I go and I guess it’s different for everyone,” she said. “I think the difference between this and just an average person is I'm trying to get back to be able to play on the court, so with that you’re obviously having to take deeper breaths and I'm finding that to be the difficult part.
“I've been building up what I'm doing, lifting and trying to do some things on-court now too. I had some final scans done this past week just trying to see where I'm at in general because I'm definitely not 100% yet.”
Allen also suffered multiple concussions during the 2022 WNBA season and she did admit that the side effects of those hits only really subsided since she has had this forced time away from the game.
“I had a concussion and was out for a few weeks and my first game back in the first minutes, I got another concussion,” she explained. “I think people underestimate how long it takes to actually come back from hits like that.
“I’ll be honest, it’s only since I've actually stopped playing now because of this lung injury that I've finally not had any more of those concussion symptoms in terms of vision and headaches, those were the two things that I struggled with.”
For all the injury issues of the last six months, Allen continues to find the positives in it all.
“It's been a rough year, but still a successful one at the same time – it's a double-edged sword,” she said. “There’s been some unlucky situations that I've been going through the last six months, but I'm also pretty proud of how I'm taking it all in my stride at the moment.
“It has not been easy at all, but being able to be home, be settled, be around family and friends and that support network that I always have whilst I’m overseas, but it's so different than when you're actually here.”
It’s certainly been a successful year for Allen, as she managed to play 25 games for the New York Liberty despite the concussion issues and helped them qualify for the playoffs, and of course, the bronze medal at a home World Cup was a moment she’ll cherish forever.
“For me, it was my favourite experience with the Australian team,” she said. “We've been building and we had the right people, the right personalities and we put a lot of effort into who we are and how connected we wanted to be. Togetherness and unity were words that we were using and I think it was the first time where I can truly say it was definitely felt and it was really nice to be a part of.
Photo credit: FIBA
“The connection that we had at the end of every game where we’d sign autographs, take photos and talk with all the fans that were there at the games was really nice too. Especially for me being overseas, I think sometimes because I'm not really on the stage here in Australia very often, so people can definitely forget that you're playing with the Opals and so it was nice to be there, be present and be able to connect in that sense.”
While Australia will always be home for Allen, her time in Europe has seen her find a home away from home in Spain. Not being able to hit the floor with Valencia this season has been a bitter pill to swallow for Allen, and after hoping to join the team at some point this season, it was announced earlier this week that she has been ruled out for the season.
“The last two years with Valencia we've been building, so it was a really big deal for me to want to play this season,” she said. “It was a really hard decision to say I can't come and it was beautiful that they waited for me as long as they did, I think that says a lot about our relationship that's been built over the two years.
“At the same time, I'm just not ready at all and it wouldn't have put myself or them in a good position.”
Having played all over the globe, Allen has taken lessons from every league she’s played in and all those experiences have helped shape her into the players she is today.
“It’s helped grow my game to another level,” she said. “It's hard in terms going back-to-back between America and Europe, that’s definitely taken a toll on the body and mind in a sense.
“I’ve lucked out with the teams I’ve been at in Europe, particularly with Valencia and Arka Gdynia in Poland, they’re two teams that became a home for me, just really beautiful clubs with beautiful people.
“I also love the culture of Spain, for someone from Melbourne and Australia, I think we fit in really well with that type of culture. I feel lucky with the places I’ve been in Europe.”
Allen also found a home in New York, having spent all seven seasons of her WNBA career with the Liberty, but she’s now on the move to Connecticut. As part of a trade that landed former WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones in New York, Allen was traded to Connecticut last month and admitted the news came as a shock.
“That trade was definitely something that I didn't expect, but all of the movement this off-season has been really full on,” she said. “New York are really building a championship team and good on them, I wish them all the best and I wish Sandy [Brondello] all the best.
“It's going to be an adjustment and it's been nice to have had this moment to really process everything. Ultimately, I always want to put my best foot forward in everything that I do – you’re always representing yourself, you're representing so many others when you put on a jersey, so I'm going to embrace every opportunity that I have coming.”
The opportunities coming Allen’s way with the Sun are genuinely exciting. Adding Allen into the mix alongside Brionna Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, all of whom are strong defenders in their own right, will have Connecticut boasting defensive weapons across the board.
“Speaking with the new coach, Stephanie [White], she’s even just looking at it being a faster game where whoever gets the rebound can just push it in transition and it’ll be really great seeing that,” she said. “What’s really cool about going to Connecticut is that you’re playing with a group that knows how to compete in playoffs, they go deep in playoffs often, so they've got a playoff mentality and a winning mentality. That’s a really good environment to go into.”
Speaking of good environments, fresh off the back of their bronze medal at the World Cup, the Opals are already building towards their next major tournament: the 2024 Paris Olympics. Allen will be vital to everything the Opals do in Paris as a focal point on offence as well as often defending the most deadly offensive threat on the other end of the court.
When asked if she believes the Opals are back to really contending for medals at major tournaments, Allen gave a telling response.
“Definitely, and I don't feel that we went away from it,” she said. “Tokyo was difficult for a multitude of reasons, but I don't think that defines us. I think we're always podium contenders and always stretching for that gold medal – that’s the ultimate goal for every team.
“We’re definitely on track and I think the way they've planned out this year and everything leading up to the Olympics is going to put us in a really good position.”