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Five-part harmony: Allen loves hoops, follows the Big Blue

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By John Herndon

Had Duane Allen not become a mega-success with The Oak Ridge Boys, chances are he would have become a highly successful basketball coach at some level.

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At least, that is how he had it planned.

“I get right into the very intricacies of coaching,” Allen said last week before taking the stage at the Kentucky State Fair. “I had dreamed when I was in school that I would be doing this until I got tired of it. I never dreamed it would last as long as it has.

“I wanted to get an education degree so I could teach. I dreamed I would probably wind up in some school teaching music and coaching basketball. I love the game that much.”

Allen says as a high schooler in Texas, he was a 3-point shooter before there was a 3-point line. “It didn't mean any more than a layup then,” Allen chuckled.

The Kentucky Wildcats became one of his favorite basketball teams, a passion that was cemented over the years. “I have always loved Big Blue basketball,” Allen says. “My wife is from Kentucky (Bowling Green), my son-in-law is from Lexington. One of my children went to Kentucky for two years, one went for a year.”

Both eventually transferred to be closer to their Nashville home.

Allen's son, Dee, is a Nashville musician. Daughter Jamie is married to Paul Martin, who spent some time with the popular central Kentucky group, Exile, and now plays in country singer Marty Stuart's band.

For Duane Allen, the Big Blue roots run deep.

“My daughter was (former UK athletic director) C.M. Newton's secretary and worked in Rick Pitino's office when he was with the Big Blue,” Allen says, “so I went to a lot of Big Blue basketball games. I really like John Calipari. I met him when he was in Memphis.”

Allen, though, is a fan of many teams. He, and several other members of the Oak Ridge Boys, support Vanderbilt, the major college team in their adopted hometown.

The preferences of someone who has made a living singing four-part harmony should not come as a surprise. He loves five-part harmony on the hardwood.

“I love great basketball when it is taught as the game of life,” Allen says. “Of course you have to put the ball in the hoop, but you also teach the game of life like John Wooden taught (at UCLA). I am a fan of team basketball. Traditional basketball. I am not much of a fan of attitude players. They come and go and they come at every school. I am not putting my finger on one or another or talking about this one.”

Teams Allen follows sounds like the lineup of the most powerful names in college hoops history. Not only does he follow Kentucky, he mentioned North Carolina as another favorite along with a guy Cat fans love to despise.

“Indiana, when Bobby Knight was there,” Allen smiles. “I loved Bobby Knight, I don't care if he did throw a chair. I liked him because he built strong character in his players. I liked Arizona when Lute (Olsen) was out there. He had strong, strong teams and good people.

“I like Gonzaga right now. They have great basketball and teach them about the game of life and turn out good men.

“I like schools that turn out quality people with character. Basketball is not a game of how hot-shot you are. It is a game of skill. It is not how heavy you can knock somebody to the floor to shoot a layup.”

When done right, it's simply five-part harmony.