With 40 minutes to Houston on the clock, there was one aspect of Nahiem Alleyne’s pregame routine that had to stay consistent.
“Just stay confident. I know we haven’t been here before, but we’re here for a reason. All the hard work in nine months is paying off right now. I feel like all of us just exude confidence,” said Alleyne.
His routine includes prayer — whether it’s about basketball or anything else going on in his life off the court. It’s helped the senior balance adversity, while also maintaining the confidence that’s gotten him this far. Whether his life is going perfectly or hits a rough patch, that element of his life has pushed him toward the success that basketball fans have observed in him.
“When everything is going good or bad, I just pray that my life just keeps getting better and better,” Alleyne said. “I try to exude that on the court as much as possible because, at the end of the day, basketball is not gonna be here forever. You just gotta pray and just be confident in yourself throughout basketball or throughout life being the man.”
Throughout a campaign of prosperity and a span of nine months that at one point saw this team in much darker times, UConn’s veteran guard has been integral in his role off the bench this season on both sides of the basketball. Despite the adversity that struck earlier in the year, his confidence is now higher than ever and is reflective of the mantra that he’s observed throughout his basketball career.
“You just gotta keep going,” Alleyne noted. “When you get in the dark, light will come. It’s March and it’s win or go home. I can’t complain about how my season is going.”
The job that Alleyne can be seen in today was described at the beginning of the season, fresh off his transfer from Virginia Tech. Coach Dan Hurley explained to him that he’d be playing for UConn and not for his former college home. The rules he’d followed throughout his past three college seasons would now be much different. Hardest of all, no one would be guaranteed minutes on a roster of talent that has made them a force to be reckoned with every single game. Just ask Iona, Saint Mary’s, Arkansas or, most recently, Gonzaga.
The UConn head coach suggested a role on the bench for the new college transfer, a position that would allow Alleyne to contribute to the program’s lofty aspirations. While many players from his standpoint wouldn’t be happy with that idea — especially since the former Virginia Tech guard was previously starting at the wing slot — he’s not only accepted the role he was given, but has thrived in it.
“I just try to embrace that every single day. Try and bring the spark just like all of us guys off the bench like me, Joey [Calcaterra], [Hassan Diarra], Donovan [Clingan].” said Alleyne.
The depth of this UConn lineup has been integral to the team’s production during the tournament and the former Virginia Tech guard has played a huge role in that success. From Calcaterra to Clingan, the Huskies have forced opponents into tough situations with players that will tire you out on offense and give you problems on defense. When you have a player like Alleyne that can do both, that spells out even more trouble for UConn’s opponents.
He’s not keeping any of the skills he’s picked up on his college journey to himself either. He’s continuing to pass his advice down to younger players like Clingan, who continues to impress with an incredible inside presence in just his first season of college basketball. As someone who’s had the luxury of competing in March for a shot at the trophy, Alleyne’s advice to younger players in the locker room is simple.
“I just kind of tell everybody just go out there and have fun,” said the UConn guard. “Never lose that joy.”
He’s also picked up a thing or two during his time in Storrs too. Whether it’s listening to the likes of legendary coach Jim Calhoun give some advice to the Huskies before their trip to Vegas or picking things up from his teammates, Alleyne has always taken the time to learn.
One of his goals for the season was to break out of his shell, something he hadn’t done as much throughout his college career as a silent leader. To take the next step, it was time for a change. Now operating in the Insurance Capital of the World, he made the decision to become more vocal. The senior gave credit to his teammates and the edge of a roster that’s shown that they’re willing to step up when the time comes.
“I feel like Andre [Jackson] helped me a lot just be a dog out there even if that’s not your personality. I don’t really do all the screaming and yelling but I feel like I show that in my game a little bit, especially on the defensive end,” said Alleyne.
From Jackson to Calhoun, he’s been able to get plenty of advice about the game, including a conversation with his basketball idol, NBA all-star CJ McCollum. Through a chance connection with one of McCollum’s teammates at Lehigh University, Alleyne jumped at the opportunity to talk with McCollum, the meeting being a moment he cherishes.
“He gave me some tips like everyday show up early and stay in late in the gym. Every single day, remember who you are. That doesn’t gotta be a scorer, defender, [or] player. Just remember who you are as a person. That’s gonna take you to the court. It was just so confusing to me, but I realized if you’re yourself every single day on and off the court, you’re gonna succeed in life,” said Alleyne.
From here, with the opportunity to bring another trophy home to Storrs and more importantly, to be a part of a special group that’s gone through some incredible battles this season, Alleyne is taking the opportunity to soak it all in and continue to prepare for when his name is called upon once more, contributing that spark off the bench UConn has needed.
“Now, it’s the opportunity to get two more,” the Huskies guard stated, with the biggest weekend of his career just within reach.