HUNTINGTON — On Friday, Marshall University mourned the loss of a man whose basketball knowledge and imprint spanned many decades, divisions and leagues.
William Russell “Sonny” Allen, who was inducted in the Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996, passed away at the age of 84 on Friday.
“Sonny was one of the first coaches I met at Marshall,” Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said. “He was the innovator of the numbered break. He was a great coach, but was an even better person. He’ll be missed.”
Allen was a three-year starter at point guard for some of Marshall’s top-scoring teams of all-time in the late 1950s, playing alongside names such as Hal Greer, Leo Byrd and others.
In the 1957-58 season, Allen teamed with those players to lead the Thundering Herd to 88.1 points per game, which made Marshall the highest scoring team in the nation.
Allen’s contributions to the Herd continued as he became an assistant coach for the team following his playing days from 1960-65 before heading to Old Dominion as a head coach where he won 181 games in 10 seasons with the Monarchs.
At Old Dominion, Allen was not only considered an innovative coach, but also a pioneer within the sport.
According to a story by Harry Minium for ODUSports.com, upon interviewing for the ODU position, Allen asked if he could recruit African-American players, to which athletic director Bud Metheny responded favorably.
At the time, Virginia was segregated and so was its college basketball, so Allen changed the dynamic for the sport within the state.
Allen’s efforts led ODU to the 1975 NCAA Division II National Championship and he earned the division’s National Coach of the Year award for the efforts.
Allen left Old Dominion to coach SMU where he earned Southwest Conference Coach of the Year honors before moving on to Nevada where he led the Wolfpack to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.
In 1997-98, Allen served as an assistant for the Dallas Mavericks before transitioning over to the WNBA where he was an assistant for the Detroit Shock before serving as head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs.
Allen was born March 8, 1936, in Moundsville, West Virginia.