By Andrew Kahn

Marcus Allen says he learned some “tricks” training with renowned hoops instructor John Lucas in Houston this past summer, but there’s nothing gimmicky about his transformation this season. The Stanford guard went from a little-used reserve as a freshman to a starter this year because of focused training and an improved mindset. He scored a career-high 13 points in a loss at Utah last night.

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Allen was the 102nd-ranked recruit coming out of Centennial High School in Las Vegas, where he was the co-valedictorian with his twin brother, Malcolm, who is redshirting this year due to a wrist injury. Marcus averaged eight minutes a game last season for a Stanford squad that made a surprise run to the Sweet 16. Known mostly for his defense, he worked to become a more complete player last summer. After posting just one double-digit scoring game last season, he’s done it three times in the last five games.

Under Lucas’ tutelage, Allen would try to score on a defender with only two dribbles in the half court or play one-on-one full court. Some drills were more unorthodox, but the results were undeniable. Says Allen, “You don’t notice it at the time but they really help in a game.” Back home, he spent every other day at Impact Basketball, where he was struck by the work ethic of the professional players who trained there.

The hard work bred confidence, as did another year in Johnny Dawkins’ system and more familiarity with his teammates. Allen says that last season, when he averaged just 1.7 points, the opposing player assigned to guard him didn’t actually have to defend him. That’s not the case this year. “I’m learning when to shoot, when to attack the basket to score or dish. Things are coming more naturally.” Playing alongside the Pac-12’s leading scorer, senior point guard Chasson Randle, Allen is not going to be the primary option offensively, but his 10.4 scoring average over the past five games proves he’s now a threat.

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Last night, he drained two three-pointers with a defender close enough to smell his sweat. On one, he caught the ball in the corner and did a short jab step. When the defender didn’t budge, he pulled the trigger.

On Sunday, in a 70-62 win against Southern Cal, Allen scored 10 and grabbed 11 rebounds. Randle said after the game that he and his teammates call Allen Stanford’s sparkplug. “Each night is something new, something different,” Dawkins said. “One night it’s transition, one night it’s driving to the basket, another night it’s rebounding. What Marcus is going to have to learn to do is put it all together. Once he does, I think he has a chance to have a terrific career for us.”

His calling card remains defense, and he says anticipation is key at that end of the floor. He focuses on his man’s waist and doesn’t relax, even if the player doesn’t have the ball. “We want him be a defensive stopper,” Dawkins says. “He’s got that mindset.”

Stanford is 16-8 and 7-5 in the Pac-12, tied for fourth with UCLA and Oregon State. Currently slotted as a 10 seed in many mock brackets, the Cardinal must finish strong to remain in the NCAA Tournament picture. Allen will play a key role down the stretch, his confidence growing with every strong performance.

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Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.