NBA Playoffs 2011: Tony Allen Is the Heart, Soul and Leader of Memphis Grizzlies

Curtis FinchumCorrespondent IApril 20, 2011

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 23:  Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzlies and the rest of the bench celebrate the win at the buzzer on March 23, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Boston Celtics 90-87. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

When Tony Allen arrived at Oklahoma State University in 2002, current head coach Eddie Sutton wasn't sure what to expect from the young man who had all the potential in the world but whose head wasn't quite on straight. 

But after his first season in a Cowboy uniform, Allen blossomed into the slashing, lockdown defender that Sutton needed. 

Paired alongside John Lucas III, Daniel Bobik, Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin, Allen helped lead the Cowboys to the Final Four and a 32-4 record on his way to winning the Big-12 Player of the Year award.

Allen's dreams came true when he was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics, who considered him a key piece of their rebuilding process. 

Boston then went into "win now" mode, trading for Ray Allen and sending fellow first-round pick Al Jefferson and a few other players to Minnesota for All-Star Kevin Garnett. Despite all his injuries, Tony Allen managed to stay off the bench. He played a crucial role in Boston's 2008 NBA championship in 2008.

Now Allen wears a Memphis Grizzlies uniform and has taken a new path in his NBA career. Always known for his defensive intensity, Allen turned himself into an offensive threat this season because of it. 

Allen became one of the league leaders in steals, finishing No. 4 in the league's Defensive Player of the Year Award voting.

Now Allen is a starter, no longer overshadowed by Celtic stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But Allen isn't just a starter—he's become so much more than that. 

Charles Barkley refers to him as a "crazy guy," and he is, but he's Memphis' crazy guy. People may say that Memphis is Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph's team, but they'd be wrong. The Grizzlies are Tony Allen's team. 

Allen alone changed the philosophy to emphasize the importance of defense. That pride, heart and soul are what give teams the edge. Allen is the true leader of Memphis—he is everything that they have become.

Allen is pure heart, pure energy and pure hustle, and he is the key to the Grizzlies getting to the next round of the playoffs.