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Lindsay Allen of St. John’s brings an uncommon focus to basketball court

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One of the first signs of St. John’s senior point guard Lindsay Allen’s acute focus came not with her dribbling a basketball but with her gripping, of all things, an air hockey mallet.

Her father, Terrell Allen III, could outlast his older children, Taylor and Terrell IV, during their basement games. They would grow tired of the repetition. Not Lindsay. If she lost, it was not because she got bored. It was because she got beat.

“My son might have had more hand-eye coordination, but I could beat him because I could focus longer,” Terrell Allen said. “I couldn’t focus longer than Lindsay. She always had that laser-like focus. The other person would waver first. She was born this way, pretty much. Almost from the womb.”

Strip away the coast-to-coast layups, the clutch late-game plays that have sent so many opponents home wondering “what if?” and the timely steals and passes and at the core of Allen’s success is her ability to ignore the extraneous and home in on what really matters. That mental clarity allows her physical gifts to take over, one highlight after another from a player with a contradictory blend of stoicism and flash.

“I’ve never been around a person, much less a player or a kid, that has the approach that she has,” St. John’s Coach Jonathan Scribner said. “She is just unbelievably focused and committed to getting better. In practice, she does every single practice drill like it’s the last one of her career.”

Allen, a Notre Dame signee and the only local player of either gender to be named a McDonald’s all-American this season, has paced top-ranked St. John’s (29-1) to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Good Counsel at Bender Arena. The two-time All-Met has reached the WCAC final in all four years of high school.

The slender, 5-foot-7, self-described introvert from Prince George’s County is not one for fuss. She eschewed clothes with zippers and buttons as a kid because she wanted something easier to put on. “Whatever way you can achieve neatness without a whole lot of celebration, that’s the route you have to go,” Lorna Wilson-Allen said. “Straight and narrow. Keep it moving. She does not like fanfare.”

Her sister played volleyball at Elizabeth Seton and currently at Virginia Wesleyan; Lindsay stiff-armed the sport because the players wore hair ribbons. Allen already has told her parents that she does not want a graduation party.

“I hate the unnecessary little things like drama,” said Allen, who is averaging 16.3 points per game and directs her team intensely but quietly and is partial to the math and science courses at her Northwest Washington private school.

She’s obsessive minus the compulsive, listening to the same songs before every game (often Drake, Lil Wayne, Wale), tying her shoes and putting her jersey on the same way each time, wearing the same shirt, socks and practice jersey every day. During the season, she uses the washing machine just about every night so her go-to threads will be ready.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” said Allen. “I do the same thing pretty much every day. Wake up ready for school, focus during school, focus during practice and go home and focus for the next two or three hours on homework.”

One challenge for the Allens has been urging Lindsay to harness that focus and relax more. She recently added to her Twitter feed an Oscar Wilde quote to help underscore that goal: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

“It just reminds me not to take everything so serious all the time,” Allen said. “Just live a little. Everybody makes mistakes.”

Allen was among the last cuts at the 2011 USA Basketball U-16 national team trials and last year made the U-17 national team that went 8-0 and won the gold medal at the FIBA World Championships in Amsterdam. She was the tournament leader in assists and assist/turnover ratio.

The girl who shuns drama is a player with a flair for the dramatic. Her sophomore season, with her team trailing by one at Good Counsel in a game pitting teams unbeaten in the conference, the Cadets cleared out for Allen with 20 seconds to go and with the standing-room-only crowd on its feet Allen swished a 14-footer for the win to cap a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback.

This season at Paul VI Catholic, she stole an inbound pass and drove for the winning layup with 20 seconds left in overtime to hand the Panthers their first loss. In the second game against Paul VI, she hustled in front of two defenders for an offensive rebound, putback and foul in a late clutch spot in a four-point win. The list goes on.

“She always shines when the light is the brightest,” Scribner said. “When the moment is needed, she makes the play every time.”

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