The tornado was coming, but Dontaie Allen kept shooting.
At 7:30 a.m. the tornado warning was issued and teachers and classmates rushed to take shelter in the basement below Pendleton County (Ky.) High School’s basketball gym.
Dontaie, a sophomore at the time, was an hour into his morning solo practice. Teachers pleaded with him to evacuate the gym and head downstairs, to abandon one drill for the sake of another.
Dontaie eventually and reluctantly complied. The tornado never reached the school, and he hasn’t had to stop shooting since.
That’s Dontaie, said Pendleton County coach Keaton Belcher. “He’d rather play basketball and die than stop shooting for a tornado drill.”
A rising star
Nearly two years later, another tornado is swirling.
A whirlwind of college coaches, reporters and high school recruiters — with Dontaie at its center.
The 6-foot-6, 185-pound wing saw his stock rise dramatically this summer to become a top-150 prospect in the class of 2019 — No. 3 in the state of Kentucky in the 247Sports composite rankings. He has collected scholarship offers from 24 NCAA Division I schools over the past six months.
Dontaie is awaiting an offer from Kentucky after receiving one from Louisville, and he will take unofficial visits to both campuses in August.
U of L’s Chris Mack, UK’s John Calipari and Rick Stansbury of Western Kentucky were among dozens of coaches courtside at this past weekend’s Louisville Jam Fest as Dontaie led M.A.T.T.s Mustangs in scoring through six games, averaging 21.6 points for the tournament.
At this point the attention is expected, but the 17-year-old admits it forced him to grow up quickly.
“I definitely matured a lot mentally,” Dontaie said. “I wouldn’t say it changed me. I don’t get rattled or nervous. I just got to go out there and show them why.”
His parents and coaches say Dontaie has embraced the weighty responsibility that comes with being thrust into the national spotlight and that although he chooses his words a bit more cautiously, that’s not a drastic departure from his usual demeanor.
Softspoken and thoughtful, Dontaie is introverted in a way that seems to defy his longtime status as a local celebrity in Pendleton County.
He holds doors and offers to carry bags on team trips. He answers questions with “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am.” His parents say he doesn’t go to parties; they had to force him to attend junior homecoming.
“For him to get all this notoriety on national level, to be same humble kid from Falmouth, Kentucky, speaks volumes,” Belcher said.
Dontaie is on pace to reach 3,600 career points and 1,400 career rebounds this season for Pendleton County, yet his hometown reputation centers on his humility rather than his on-court accomplishments.
“Everybody knows everybody in our community,” said Tony Thomas, Dontaie’s father. “He’s not Dontaie the basketball player or Dontaie the recruit. He’s just Dontaie.”
On the basketball court, Dontaie is an enigma.
A big guard with surprisingly deft ball-handling skills for his size, he can finish through contact at the rim or let fly from beyond the arc.
In the first half of the Mustangs’ win over Nova Village at Louisville Jam Fest, Dontaie scored 15 points entirely on 3-point shots. He then started the second half with a two-handed, baseline dunk.
“You can’t put a big guy on him because he’ll blow by, but you can’t put a small guy because he’ll go over the top of him,” said Mustangs coach Jon Adkins. “He scores a lot of points but is still unselfish and makes the right play.”
“Walking buckets,” is the nickname Dontaie gave himself, although he takes pains to make sure his game is multi-dimensional.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, he’s a shooter,'” Dontaie said. “Like yeah I am, but I’m trying to be the best I can be at everything: dribbling, passing, putting an emphasis on defense. … I’m an overall playmaker.”
Dontaie’s versatility and increased exposure have made him a focal point of opponents’ game plans as well as a target of criticism.
Defenders try to draw an offensive foul as Dontaie brings the ball up the floor. Spectators heckle and cry for push-offs. Double-teams manhandle him in the post.
If it gets under his skin, he doesn’t show it.
“Nothing bothers him,” said April Thomas, Dontaie’s mother. “He hit the game-winner (at the Under Armour Challenge) in Atlanta last week and walked off the court like nothing happened.”
Underneath the stone-faced exterior runs a fiery competitive streak. Dontaie loves to beat teammates at foosball and pool. The oldest of four siblings, all of whom play basketball, he takes pride in winning on the court as well as at board games and video games (except for Fortnite, where he admits his brother has the upper hand).
If, as a child, he ever lost a game of H.O.R.S.E or one-on-one against his cousin, he flung the ball across the road out of spite.
“If you’re walking on the sidewalk, he has to be first,” Tony Thomas said.
The same relentless ambition led Belcher to put Dontaie on the Pendleton County varsity roster five games into his eighth-grade season.
Now Dontaie has wrapped up his final AAU season and will head into his senior high school season with his pick of college basketball destinations, including his home state.
Dontaie is often the best player on the court in travel ball and high school ball. He knows it probably won’t be that way if he ends up at a power conference college program like Louisville or Kentucky, but that’s OK.
“I want my role to be whatever my coaches and my team needs it to be,” he said. “I just want to feel like I’m doing my part.”