Will Allain (above, last season) was a two-year starter for Phoenixville. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Ryan Coyle (@ryancoyle35)
Throughout his basketball journey, Phoenixville senior guard Will Allain never came across someone who he thought cared about winning as much as he did. That’s until he had the opportunity to play for Phoenxville head coach Eric Burnett.
That competitive nature the two shared was clear during a midweek phone call in Will’s first varsity season with the Phantoms.
“We were kind of having a rough year,” Burnett recalled. “Will called me one night around 10 PM, in the middle of the week after we just lost a game. He calls me and tells me how losing is killing him, and asks what more can he do at practice to help the team out.
“When he called me asking those types of questions as a sophomore at 15 years old, I was in awe,” the Phantoms’ seventh-year head coach said. “I don’t have those types of conversations with seniors, let alone sophomores calling me. That right there has always stuck with me.”
For a young player trying to find his way at the varsity level it was a bit difficult for Allain and the rest of his teammates during that sophomore season. The young guard just wanted to do what he could to wake up his team in the midst of a losing streak during a pivotal midseason stretch.
“I just wanted to figure out what was going wrong and why our team wasn’t as passionate as we should be,” Allain said. “He was kind of laughing and told me to calm down, saying that this wasn’t the first losing streak that I would suffer in my career.”
“We were able to talk it out, get things on the right path, make districts that year and make a few more good runs the next few seasons as well.”
That competitive fire has been there for Allain since he first crossed paths with Burnett at Phoenixville Area High School’s summer basketball camp back in middle school, and it’s a major reason he’ll be continuing his playing career at Ursinus College this fall.
The coaching staff always noticed one player in particular outworking the rest, being first in line for each drill and out hustling every kid for loose balls.
Parents sign their kids up for those summer camps to get their kids out of the house and hang out with their friends. Allain, on the other hand, was out to make an impression on Burnett and his staff from a young age that he had ambitions to be a part of the program himself in a few years.
“He won the ‘Mr. Intensity’ award at our camps and he was just the ultimate competitor,” Burnett said. “We knew and saw from a young age how special of a worker he was and how he was going to be a special player for us.”
Going to those camps in the fifth and the sixth grade, instead of vacationing at the beach or an amusement park, is where the Ursinus commit said he really began to fall in love with the game.
“I got to see what the program was like, what my future coach was like, meet some of the players that I looked up to at the time and it was awesome because it made me realize that basketball was my passion and that’s what I wanted to work at,” Allain said. “Those camps were really eye-opening for me.”
‘Mr. Intensity’ didn’t stop his drive to get better after those middle school clinics though, as Allain continued to grow his skillset and his passion for the sport throughout his high school years.
Allain (above, last season) played for Ursinus grads in both high school and AAU. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
In the offseason leading up to Allain’s senior year, the traditional workout program and summer league action that Burnett has his players accustomed to was thrown for a loop due to COVID. The Ursinus pledge actively continued to seek out ways to improve his game, along with his teammates in hope of a senior season.
“Will is the kid that I would never have to ask about or check in with over the past year regarding if he was working out,” Burnett said. “He would always be calling me, checking in to gather some tips or advice for things to improve his game. He was a great leader for other guys, always challenging guys to meet up at the ‘Y’ or the park to work out.”
During his senior year, Allain averaged 8.6 points per game, garnering second team all-division in the PAC Pioneer on a Phoenixville squad that finished 11-6. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard had one of his better games in the PIAA 5A District One playoffs, where he dropped 18 points in an upset win over No. 3 seed Holy Ghost Prep.
The two programs that were on Allain hardest were Oberlin College, about 35 minutes outside of Cleveland (Ohio) and Ursinus, which is only 15 minutes away from Phoenixville Area High School.
Allain has a bevy of connections within the Ursinus program from his time on the floor with Phoenxville, as well as his time with Pro Skills Basketball during the AAU season, starting with Burnett.
Burnett was a standout guard for Ursinus playing for Kevin Small at Ursinus and was a part of two Centennial Conference Championship teams, including a team that went to the Division III Final Four in 2008. Allain’s AAU coach for his freshman and sophomore seasons with Pro Skills Basketball was Keith Hack, an assistant from 2014-19 on Small’s staff at Ursinus before taking the head coaching job at his alma mater, Medaille College. During his junior year on the AAU circuit, Allain was coached by Jeff Vangorder, who is an assistant on the Bears coaching staff as well.
Combining his ability in the classroom as a high level student and as a player with the skills to be a Division III player, Allain began to become interested in attending a school that fit him as well as Ursinus did.
This was a unique experience for a high school athlete to have three different coaches with all connections to a program that certainly peaked his interest.
“When Coach Burnett knew I was interested in Ursinus and that I might try to go there he was really honest with me and I never felt like I was pressured or anything to go there,” Allain said. “Coach Burnett was just able to give me a little more insight about the school and the team from his experience there which was cool.”
Burnett felt throughout his time playing for Small, who has been the head coach for the Bears since the 2000-01 season, that he knew what he looked for in a player and that his senior leader in Allain would be a perfect match for the Ursinus culture.
Ursinus didn’t play this past season due to COVID-19, as the Centennial Conference shut down the basketball season, but is coming off of a 12-13 season from 2019-20, which was the first year the Bears finished under .500 since 2015-2016. Throughout Small’s tenure at Ursinus the Bears have been one of the league’s top teams, winning four Centennial Conference championships along with that deep NCAA run.
To get back to the top of the league for the first time since the 2008 campaign, Allain and his future teammates are going to have to go through some of the nation’s toughest teams in conference foes Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins, as well as a program on the rise in Haverford.
Allain is aiming to be a part of the next great run in Ursinus basketball history, following in the footsteps of his former head coach who led them to the Division III Final Four back in 2008.
In order to do that, the Bears are going to need some players to step up to take down those conference titans. When asked what his goal was for the basketball program once he steps on the hardwood, the Phoenixville standout didn’t even hesitate.
“Win a Centennial Conference Championship.”
If the Bears aren’t cutting down the nets again in a few years, Small might be getting a call from Allain himself to try and work things out.