Allen High School basketball fans will get to witness something they’ve never seen before when the Mustangs meet the Stratford boys in the first round of the 2019 Pontotoc Conference Tournament Tuesday night.
That game is scheduled to tip off at 8:30 p.m. and will feature longtime AHS boys coach Greg Mills coaching a home game in a new gymnasium for the first time in his long career.
Mills is entering his 31st year of coaching and has spent the past 21 roaming the sidelines at Allen. But every home game during those two-plus decades has been spent in Allen’s old gym.
Ironically, Allen players won’t be the first ones to play a varsity game in the sparkling, brand-new facility. The first round of the conference tournament will be held Monday night with the following schedule: Vanoss girls versus Asher at 4 p.m.; Asher boys versus Tupelo at 5:30 p.m.; Roff girls versus Calvin at 7 p.m.; and Roff boys versus Calvin at 8:30 p.m.
The full schedule on Tuesday begins with the Stonewall girls versus Stratford at 4 p.m.; Asher boys versus Tupelo at 5:30 p.m.; and Allen girls vs. Tupelo at 7 p.m. before Mills makes his new gymnasium debut in the nightcap.
“We’re excited about getting it. It’s been a good experience so far,” Mills told The Ada News after giving this sports editor a tour of the new building earlier this week. “It easy to see why people will love to watch a game in a facility like this. It has good, large seats, and there is plenty of room to walk around. It’s going to be more comfortable, and I feel like most people will enjoy watching a game in here.”
The new gym will hold approximately 1,200 fans, and that should be plenty of room for everyone next week.
Mills said his players are also chomping at the bit to get under the new bight lights of their new home and perform in front of their fans.
“The kids are excited and ready to get in here and play,” he said. “It’s probably a more difficult shooting environment than they’re used to. On the east end, you have an open back — kind of like some of your bigger gyms you find in the playoffs. But it’s going to be a good environment to play in every night.”
As usual, the Mustangs have just one basketball game under their belts entering tournament play, while some conference teams have already played five or six contests. It puts Allen a little bit behind the eight ball.
Plus, Allen is trying to adjust after losing four solid starters from a year ago. Gone are playmakers Taydn Walker, Kaden Mills, Hunter Simpson and Aaron Dockery. That foursome averaged a combined 38 points per outing last season.
“We’re still trying to get out of football mode. ... but we’re getting better each day,” Mills said. “The more we get out there and practice, the better we’ll get. It’s just a slow process when you lose four starters and come back and almost starting over. I feel like we have a nucleus to be competitive, and we could be a really good team by playoff time.”
Allen is no longer alone in its predicament. The Stratford Bulldogs are also trying to regroup after getting football players in the gym late.
“I’m glad to have another school in the conference that has football. Stratford will join us, and we’re kind of in the same boat,” Mills said.
Add that to the fact that the boys bracket in the Pontotoc Conference Tournament is loaded this year.
“The tournament’s going to be tough. I think most coaches would agree that anybody could beat anybody on a given night,” Mills said. “That’s what makes the tournament interesting early.”