Imagine a hot summer day in Reston. Michael Jackson, the Georgetown point guard who guided the Hoyas to the national championship last year and may do the same this year, is playing pick-up basketball on the single court at the Twin Branches Playground at the corner of Twin Branches and Lawyers Road. He is running the show.
But there's this pesky kid, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound kid, guarding him, who keeps getting in his face. Jackson can beat him to the basket, but the kid is working diligently on his defense.
That's how Brian Allen spent his summer -- working on his defense. And during this season, the reward was sweet. Allen, always a top-notch offensive performer at South Lakes High School, where Jackson also played and where Allen wore his old number, 32, became a superb defensive performer.
In addition to the 18-plus points that he averaged, the senior usually had six or seven steals a game. The combination of offensive and newly-acquired defensive skills has made him the most complete player in Northern Virginia. His play at both ends of the court was largely responsible for South Lakes' 21-4 record. Even in defeat, Allen stood strong as he scored 26 points in the Seahawks' 71-70 overtime loss to Stuart in the Northern Region semifinals.
Matching up with Jackson for the last few summers has made the two good friends. The friendship extends back to the first time Jackson saw Allen play at South Lakes three years ago, when Allen played his first season on the varsity.
"Michael came back for a game my sophomore year," Allen said. "I was wearing his number, and after the game he came back into the locker room and told me that I had to play well because I was wearing his number."
And what happened the first time Allen saw Jackson play?
"My chin dropped," Allen said. "He could do everything. But then we started playing and he's just like anyone else."
Guarding Jackson in pickup games, Allen believes, has made him "a 50 percent better" defensive player.
"I wouldn't say it has made me 100 percent better because I was never that bad a player."
Wendall Byrd, the Seahawks' first-year coach, has also noticed Allen's defensive improvement.
"I always felt Brian could play better defense," Byrd said. "We worked a lot on his defensive skills from Nov. 10. Now he's an all-round player.
"It accents his offense. He'll strip a ball off the player, get the fast break started and fill the right lane."
Like Jackson, who starred for the Seahawks when they won the district title in 1982, Allen has become the Seahawks' top player. The two, along with others such as Dave Hersey in 1981 and Robert Allen and Steve Beecy in 1983, have much to do with South Lakes' quick but impressive rise to the top of Northern Virginia basketball.
Byrd also has regard for Allen's off-court skills. "I've known him since he's been here. Brian's a good overall person. He works hard in high school. He has a B average."
Allen is proud of the sales job he holds at Sports Outfitters in Reston. By no small coincidence, Michael Jackson's older brother Ted owns the store. Allen started working there in August, but during the season has had to cut his hours to five a week.
"Selling sporting goods is right up my alley," he said. "I knew Ted before I started working there, but I really enjoy it."
His defense has improved so much that Byrd considers him the top defensive and offensive player in Northern Virginia. "I know he's a Division I player," Byrd said.
And so the Jackson-Allen connection could have another chapter. Allen, a 3.0 student, says Georgetown has contacted him.
"To play with a big school like that," said Allen, "I'd have to be at the top of my game. I'd have to work on my ball handling. It's good, but it could be better."
Imagine a hot day next summer in Reston. Jackson, playing pickup at the Twin Branches playground, is running the show.
But there's this kid he's guarding. And the kid is working diligently on his ball handling . . .