Watching McDonald's All American West boys basketball coach Frank Allocco patrol a sideline, one might get a bad impression. Check that. One might get the
Loud. Forceful. Demanding. Allocco insists upon detail, intensity and excellence.
It's what his dad, a factory worker and product of the depression, taught him and what four competitive brothers (all college athletes) pounded home.
With three state championships — two in his current post at De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
— and a 626-94 record in 27 seasons, his demands and excellence have largely been met.
Still, at times, it's not always easy to watch or hear, especially his trademark foot stomping, which can be somewhat off-putting.
"I have a bad voice for coaching, so (stomping) was the only way to get their attention," he once related.
After 15 years of stomping, he had knee surgery eight years ago and doctors told him he couldn't stomp any more. But, when a point needs to be made at a crucial time, Allocco ignores the doctor's orders.
Allocco, of course, is no different than most animated basketball coaches who are all out there for the world to sit and judge. It's not like most other sports where the actions and words of a coach are largely out of sight and earshot.
Basketball coaches are Hamlet on center stage with spotlights and packed gymnasiums glaring.
The good ones, like Allocco, don't break character. Their aim is to build it. If fans are a little uncomfortable watching the process, so be it. It's not about him. It's not about them.
The truth is, it's hard to find a warmer, more generous and charming person around sport than Allocco. The 59-year-old greets with a two-hand shake, if not an embrace. He inquires about family. He smiles warmly and compliments freely.
He offers more than pleasantries. He's been a motivational speaker and clinician from coast to coast and overseas, teaching the game and life skills to adults and kids alike. Along the way, he has made many friends.
One dear one was perhaps the Bay Area's hardest working coach Mike Gragnani, who at 50 died of heart attack three years ago. Allocco was the first to get calls from reporters.
"He was a guardian of the game," Allocco said. "He loved the game and he loved coaching kids. He was a great man."
When longtime Livermore (Calif.)
scorekeeper Pete Anderson died in December after a long illness, Allocco was the first person to call reporters, who were unaware of his passing.
Anderson, 91, jotted down numbers for 61 years, a span of 3,513 games, and he was the sort of person Allocco thought young people should know about.
"He took pride in what he did, no matter how menial some might perceive that task to be," Allocco said. "He made a commitment and stuck to it."
Allocco, one of the most visible, accomplished and high-profile high school coaches in the country, and Anderson, the invisible scorekeeper, made a definite connection over the years. When De La Salle played at Livermore in January, "it wasn't nearly the same," Allocco said. "I miss him already."
Almost ironic, perhaps poetic then, was that Allocco was selected to coach in the nation's most famous and visible high school game on Wednesday. Blown away
Allocco is only the second coach from Northern California to be picked as head coach for the prestigious game, one that has featured such game MVPs as Shaquille O'Neal (1989), Chris Webber (1991), Kevin Garnett (1995), LeBron James (2003), Dwight Howard (2004) and Kevin Durant (2006).
Allocco didn't even know he was being considered for the position until early in February, the same day he accepted it. He got a call from McDonald's Executive Director Bob Geoghan, who left a flattering but curious voice message.
"He started the message saying that I had been nominated, which was awesome enough. I was thrilled," Allocco said. "By the end of the message, he told me I had been selected. Needless to say I was blown away."
Especially after learning that the other Northern California coach was the late Frank LaPorte, of St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda, Calif.)
, who along with Jason Kidd led the Pilots to back-to-back state titles starting in 1991. Allocco started his prep coaching career that year at a small, unsuccessful public school program, Northgate (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
, and he reached out to LaPorte for advice.
"He was one of the few coaches who returned my calls and we scrimmaged every year," Allocco said. "He was one of my closest mentors who I am forever grateful for."
Allocco, a former quarterback and basketball player at Notre Dame in the middle 1970s, won his first state crown with Northgate in 1995 and was state runner-up the following year.
The 10 seasons before Allocco arrived, Northgate had one winning season. He went 167-28 in six seasons there, before moving on to De La Salle, a school known for its historic football program.
Allocco immediately stuck a chord and friendship with football coach Bob Ladouceur. Well, that was after Ladouceur looked past a first wrong impression. The two had crossed paths at a coaching clinic.
"He was a presenter and talking about motivation," Ladouceur recalled. "I didn't know him, but remember thinking ‘That guy was pretty cocky.'"
Ladouceur laughs at the memory. A year later, Allocco was hired as De La Salle's basketball coach.
"When we actually talked for the first time, it took less than 15 minutes to realize we thought and valued the same things," Ladouceur said. "He wasn't cocky, he was confident. I knew then we'd be good friends."
The two connected philosophically and spiritually, and their strong personalities resonated beyond their respective sports. The Spartans won their first state Division I (large school) title in 2000 and another in 2006, and Allocco, without a Top 100 national recruit, reached 600 wins faster than any coach in California history. Little things lead to big things
His 2006 team, which defended like banshees and distributed like Vegas dealers, epitomized Allocco's coaching style. They gave up 35.8 points per game (there's a shot clock in California) and six players averaged from 7.4 to 12.3 points per game.
With a competitive edge and an eye for detail and a unique ability to communicate with teens, Allocco has flourished at his craft. His 2006 team said it best.
"He knows 10 times more about basketball than all of us combined," leading scorer Lincoln Gunn said that year. "He's an awesome teacher."
Said starting point guard Justin Joyner, who later played at UC Santa Barbara: "He's always there for us. He's more than a father figure. He's family."
Said Chris Lynch: "He's a wizard in all phases of life and the game."
Said guard Marcus Schroeder: "He pays attention to all the little things, which add up to big things."
Like when a player's shirt tail once became untucked at a banquet: "I called him on it. I'm into everything. I don't miss much. It sends a message not to cut corners," Allocco said.
His detailed nature was passed on to him from Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, who constantly dinged him for a twitch in his footwork: "I remember thinking ‘What was the big deal?' Now I get on my guys for their footwork setting picks. I know they think I must be crazy."
For Allocco, known to slow the game to a crawl, leading a pack of greyhounds in a McDonald's All American game appears crazy to some as well. Even some of his friends teased him and wondered if he'll keep the game in the 60s or 70s.
Allocco laughs at another wrong impression.
"I coach accordingly to the personnel I have," he said. "I'm going to be coaching young men who are a year or two away from the NBA. That's crazy, right? Trust me, they'll be shooting the ball as quickly as the ball gets within shooting range."
Which is exactly the way Allocco played the game. He still holds the Providence (N.J.) scoring record, averaging more than 29 points per game. He had games of 44 and 52 his senior year.
"I shot the ball every time I touched it," he said. "My mentality was the only way you could score was to shoot. I was quite the gunner."
On Wednesday, he'll be shooting for a victory. And, perhaps, a good impression.
Frank Allocco, a writer and poet in his spare time, has agreed to share his journey with MaxPreps. From California to Chicago to his busy five-day stay in the Windy City, Allocco will describe his daily thoughts, highlights and impressions in a diary we're calling "McDonald's Memories." Click here to read the first edition