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Nets' Jarrett Allen, Treveon Graham lauded by college coach Shaka Smart

Allen played for the NIT champion Texas coach with the Longhorns, while Graham starred for Smart at VCU.

Nets center Jarrett Allen, who played for Shaka

Nets center Jarrett Allen, who played for Shaka Smart at Texas, ranks 12th in the NBA with 1.5 blocks per game Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Shaka Smart, the Texas men’s basketball head coach, is no stranger to New York celebrations.

Thursday, Smart and the Longhorns cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden after winning the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Four years ago, he led VCU to victory in the Atlantic 10 Tournament at Barclays Center.

The Most Outstanding Player of that tournament: Brooklyn Nets guard Treveon Graham.

“Tre’s a guy that had two scholarship offers coming into the summer of his senior year,” Smart told amNewYork on Thursday after his team defeated Lipscomb, 81-66, in the NIT final. “Very under-recruited, very under the radar, but the first time I saw him play, I just knew he had a knack for winning and for scoring."

Smart, of course, isn't surprised to see his former VCU star Graham has found his way in the pros.

"What’s been pretty neat about him is since he’s been in the NBA, he’s had to adapt and adjust to the higher level and now he’s become a toughness guy, and a rebounding guy and a defense-first guy, and I’m really proud of him for doing that.”

Graham's teammate on the Nets, center Jarrett Allen, also played for Smart in college. Before Allen emerged as a fixture of Brooklyn's resurgence this season, he played his only NCAA season for Smart at Texas. 

“Jarrett, he’s one of a kind. [I] never coached anyone like him,” Smart said. “He [is] extremely smart. I think the thing that’s really impressive about him is his work ethic has just grown exponentially, and it’s really exciting the upside that he has. He’s obviously assembling a heck of a highlight reel of blocks and he’s a guy that’s only going to get better and better.

The second-year big man is averaging 11 points and 8.3 rebounds, and he ranks 12th in the league with 1.5 blocks per game. His averages this season are up across the board for the Nets, who on Sunday clinched the franchises first postseason berth since 2015. Smart credits Allen's will to learn and not allow his growth to slow down.

"The unique thing about Jarrett: He enjoys learning more than any player I’ve ever been around," Smart said. "He just loves to learn, and that is an awesome trait because it’s easy, I would imagine, for guys, when they get to this level, to feel like you kind of have it figured out, but he just wants to keep learning and keep getting better.”

For Smart, seeing two of his former top pupils performing at the highest level is its own reward.

“I’m so proud of those guys,” he said.

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