SUDBURY – Julie Allen knew long ago that her youngest son was going to grow up to be a special player on the basketball court.
When Jamal Allen was a toddler, he would scrap together just about anything from around the house to practice shooting or dunking. After his mother picked up clothes from the dry cleaner, Allen would straighten out one of the metal hangers, shove it between a door, and then shape it into a circle to use as a mini hoop.
On other days, he would roll up a pair of socks and fire away at a trash can.
He was enthralled with the game.
As a senior at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional, the 6-foot guard has emerged as one of the top players in the region.
“It was not a surprise to me because I knew he had that determination,” confirmed his mother.
But to those on the outside, what her son has accomplished may be hard to fathom. His path to the court has been nearly derailed by huge challenges. And he has developed into a star with essentially one arm, his left; his right often clenched closely to his body.
It all began on Oct. 16, 1996, the day of his birth. He arrived larger than expected, around 12 pounds, and with it too late in the process for a Cesarean section, doctors were forced to remove Allen from his mother’s womb by pulling with their hands.
The difficult delivery left Allen with nerve damage in his right arm – a condition called Erb’s Palsy. And for the first seven to eight years of his life, he had extremely limited motion in the arm.
And as he grew, so did the problems.
The muscles in his arm began to twist around the bones, requiring a subsequent surgery to release the muscles. When Allen was in second grade, a steel plate was inserted and he was placed in a full body cast for nearly six weeks.
“That was very tough for me . . . I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was in the hospital for two weeks. I couldn’t eat, I started throwing up,” recalled Allen.
But he gradually began to improve and when the cast came off, he immediately felt the difference. After a few months of therapy and rehabilitation to strengthen the arm, he was back on the court – and ultimately on a road to stardom.
While the use of his right arm was still restricted, the surgery provided Allen a shot of confidence. He was looser on the court, knowing that he could compete with every foe he was up against.
Allen began to gain exposure in middle school after traveling around the Northeast with his MBAC squad for tournaments against some of the region’s best competition. The increased attention brought with it more questions – and more doubters.
He heard the whispers of those in the stands and on the opposing benches.
“What’s with his arm?” “Is there something wrong with him?”
“I started to get a little buzz around and everybody noticed that and then they tried to make it my weakness, tried to make me go to my right. People started to notice, ‘Oh there’s something wrong with his arm,’” said Allen.
“One of the scouts gave me a nickname called the left-handed bandit because I would only go to my left. I would probably do one to two dribbles and go back to my left. I think that move kind of helped me actually because it worked every time . . . Nobody ever could stop me with that.”
And they still can’t.
Allen has emerged as the premier player in the Dual County League, leading the league in scoring at 24 points per game. His 42-point performance in a 76-60 win over Weston earlier this season is the highlight of his senior campaign.
“He takes advantage of whatever the defense is giving him and manages it to the best of his ability, and I think clearly that’s what he’s also done in life,” said Weston High coach David First.
“He’s taken advantage of every bit of what he can do based on what life is giving him. He’s not just inspirational to his teammates but I’m sure to everyone on our team. It’s pretty awesome to see someone do what he does.”
‘Sauce’, as he is known by his teammates and coaches, is also a senior captain and his team’s backbone, its leader on and off the court.
Harlan Smart, a fellow senior captain at L-S, said Allen “has a calming presence in the huddle which is kind of nice if we’re having an off night.
“He brings humor in tough situations. He’s not going to get real worked up in situations that most people would which is really important.”
And Allen faces more challenges than his physical limitations.
A participant in the state’s Metco program, the 19-year-old Dorchester resident has attended Lincoln public schools since elementary school.
His days are long and draining. Allen must leave his home by 6 a.m. each morning to catch a bus that makes the near-hour trek out to Lincoln-Sudbury. After practices and games, which can sometimes last late into the evening, first-year head coach Mike Normant drives Allen home or to the Alewife MBTA station.
“His commitment to basketball is just unbelievable, just how much he wants to be successful and how much he wants the team to be successful,” said Normant, whose team is 7-8, three wins aways from a postseason berth.
“Some late practice nights or after games, I want to meet with the coaches and talk for a while and he sits and waits; there’s no urgency, he’s very calm. And he says, ‘Coach, no problem, I understand.’
“He goes through everything with that humility.”
That’s the way it’s been since the beginning, when those rolled up pairs of socks and dry cleaner hangers were his prized possessions.
“Hard work and dedication,” Allen said simply about how he’s gotten to this point.
“There were times I would ponder why am I even playing basketball still? There’s no point. But people in my corner helped me and stuck with me through the whole journey.
“I think I’m doing pretty well now.”
These players have put their respective teams in position for success in the upcoming state tourney with their stellar, and unsung, contributions:
■ Andrew Bereket, Newton South: The Lions (13-4) are poised for a postseason run behind the junior, who registered 24 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals in a 78-77 overtime win over Westford.
■ Chris Doherty, Marlborough: The 6-foot-6 sophomore returned from injury earlier this month and produced 16 points and 10 rebounds for the 13-4 Panthers — last season’s Division 2 runner up — in a win over Nashoba Regional.
■ Tim Prunier, Franklin: A Hockomock League all-star last season, the senior captain is the leading scorer (14 points per game) for the eighth-ranked Panthers and has helped propel Franklin to a 14-2 record.
■ Eric Sellew, Concord-Carlisle: Last year’s Dual County League Small MVP has paced the Patriots (14-1) once again. The 6-foot-7 Amherst recruit had 38 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Bedford in January.
■ Ethan Wright, Newton North: The 15-year-old sophomore guard is averaging 24 points per game and is the driving force for the fourth-ranked Tigers (13-2).
Eric Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.