Once when he was a student at the University of Utah, Lance Allred received an incomplete for his grade in a Middle East history class. It didn't make sense to the academic all-conference basketball player with a 3.8 GPA, who had submitted a well-researched 10-page final paper.
Puzzled and concerned, Allred typed up a letter and put it under his professor's door, questioning the incomplete grade, since he had done all of the work. A couple of days later, the professor told him why.
Apparently the paper was so well-written that the professor assumed the paper had been plagiarized because Allred was an athlete. After seeing other examples of Allred's writing, the professor realized his mistaken assumption, apologized and gave Allred the grade he deserved.
Some folks might wonder the same thing as the professor about Allred's new book, "Longshot: The Adventures of a Deaf Fundamentalist Mormon Kid and His Journey to the NBA." How could a 28-year-old basketball player write such a fascinating, funny and entertaining book?
The former East High, University of Utah and Weber State basketball player's book has detailed stories about his growing-up years in the polygamous, Fundamentalist LDS Rulon Allred clan, his challenges with hearing loss and an obsessive-compulsive diagnosis as well as a post-traumatic disorder aggravated by three years playing under coach Rick Majerus. It's topped off by the fulfillment of Allred's decade-long dream of making it to the NBA.
Allred wrote most of the book during a lonely winter he spent in the north of France during his first year of professional basketball.
"It's about having a dream and chasing it," he says, "because more important than whether you fail or succeed, it's whether you try."
Allred grew up as a gawky kid who talked funny and had large hearing aids on his protruding ears and was often made fun of by his schoolmates. He didn't even take up basketball until he was 14, but despite just average athletic ability, Allred made it all the way to the NBA in 2008 on sheer determination and spent two months with the Cleveland Cavaliers (yes, he knows LeBron James and calls him a "pretty down-to-earth guy").
After he was called up to Cleveland from the Idaho Stampede of the NBA D-League, Allred was featured in a story on NPR radio. A representative from Harper-Collins heard it, called his agent and said, "hey, this sounds like a wonderful story, we'd like to send a ghost writer out to get Lance's story.' "
The agent quickly told the publisher that Allred was a writer and Harper-Collins agreed to publish after reading what Allred had already penned. Allred was told his book had to be cut in third to make it more marketable and the book ended up 250 pages. As of last Tuesday, the book has been available at most bookstores in Utah and elsewhere around the country.
When you meet Allred in person, you'll find a very tall, handsome young man with a scruffy beard on his chin and an easy smile. At 6-foot-11, he's had to put up with insensitive comments from strangers, difficulty shopping for clothes and a lot of bumps to the top of his head.
He lives in an apartment on Salt Lake City's East Bench with his beloved black Scottish terrier, Mac, who goes with him everywhere (the dog even accompanied him to Europe when he played pro basketball there).
His room is decorated with posters of rock stars from the 1960s and '70s — Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Neil Diamond. He says he loves the "classic" music of that era because he can better hear the music with the individual instruments, rather than the "noise" of today's music.
As you converse with Allred, you sense no hint of a hearing problem unless you see the tiny digital aids inside his ears or notice how intently he looks at you. He speaks clearly and succinctly, with only the occasional dropping of the R sound in his speech. He's extremely articulate, using words such as "capricious" without acting the least bit pretentious.
Allred can entertain you all day with stories about his life in a polygamous cult, where he spent most of the first 13 years of his life in a commune in Montana before settling in Salt Lake near the University of Utah. "It's normal to me because I grew up there," he says. "I grew up with literally hundreds of cousins."
Allred can expound at length about the fascist and socialistic aspects of polygamist cults and why some aspects work and others don't. He believes it worked quite well in 19th century America, but is convinced, "in this day and age, it doesn't work."
In his book, Allred pulls no punches while making fun of odd aunts and uncles or even his grandmother and siblings. But he points out that he's harder on himself than anyone else. "I make fun of myself and everyone around me and have fun doing it."
His family escaped the cult at great personal risk and eventually converted to the LDS Church when he was 15. Today, Allred calls himself a "devout spiritual person" who loves the Book of Mormon but is not a religious person.
Allred still gets the credit or blame, depending on how you look at it, for Utah coach Rick Majerus' resignation in 2004 after stories of Majerus' mistreatment of Allred, when he called him "a disgrace to cripples" and other similar things became public. Contrary to rumors, Allred never filed any sort of harassment suit, but Majerus high-tailed it out of town soon after the news hit.
The book devotes four of its 31 chapters to Allred's time at Utah. He was very careful to only use stories of his Utah experience when he had another witness to back him up. He says he doesn't hold any ill feelings toward Majerus or blame him for his failure at Utah.
"Majerus was brutal to all of his players, some more than others, and I wasn't an exception," he said. "Sure, I was a Majerus-type player, but personality-wise, no. When you have someone like Majerus, who you admire and you want so badly to please, but he'll never give it to you, you find yourself obsessing and obsessing. My personality mixed with his was just gasoline over fire." While Allred shares the blame for his failure at Utah, he also says "I can give Majerus no credit for my subsequent success. There are things I do as a player now that have allowed me to be successful, he would never let me do."
He still gets grief from some folks for Majerus' departure, and says, "They'll never know how much I loved that place and what really went on there. If I need to be the scapegoat for it, fine. Hopefully he's learned lessons as well."
After leaving Utah, Allred transferred to Weber State, where his career took off under the more laid-back style of Joe Cravens, a former Majerus assistant coach. Knowing both well, Cravens says, "There couldn't be a worse match than Rick Majerus and Lance Allred."
Cravens told Allred to not think much about basketball during his year off as a redshirt and he allowed him to play the game he had been taught in high school under Kerry Rupp.
By the time he was a senior, Allred was one of the top rebounders in the nation. He waged a yearlong battle with Utah's Andrew Bogut and future Jazz-man Paul Millsap of Louisiana Tech, finishing just short with 12.0 boards per game compared to Millsap's 12.4 and Bogut's 12.2.
"I told him if you want to obsess about something, why don't you obsess about rebounding," recalls Cravens. "And he did. He'd knock over a guard 20 feet from the basket to get a rebound. He was really into leading the nation in rebounding."
Cravens calls Allred "brilliant," but acknowledges he wasn't the easiest player to coach. "I used to say, 'coaching Lance is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.' He's a very unique person."
However he's not the least bit surprised that Allred has gone on to play in the NBA and get a book contract worth close to six figures.
"I fully expected him to be successful person after he got out of college," he said.
While he may have a promising future as a writer, Allred said he still loves basketball and will play it until his knees say "no more."
He has a couple of offers in Italy for this fall and will attend some NBA camps this summer with hopes of catching on as a minimum-salary player. Allred envisions himself still playing a decade from now in obscure European markets such as Iceland or Scotland or Denmark.
"I was a European history major in college," he says. "I love that stuff."
At some point he'd like to go back to school and get his PhD and teach history like his father. Last year he bought 20 acres of land in the Teton Valley with most of his NBA money and that's where he plans to build his first home.
Allred is still writing, with two books on tap — a historical novel about Teutonic Knights in the 14th century and a Victorian satire — and would like to compile some of the stories cut from "Longshot" into a book.
Despite his tumultuous childhood, his hearing and OCD problems and abuse from coaches, Allred says he has few regrets in life.
"I've enjoyed the path I've taken," he says. "It's been more a path of self-discovery because I believe I've turned every stone. I can say I did the best I possibly could."
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