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Flanigan can be a game changer


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Allen Flanigan can be Auburn’s game changer

By Giana Han

It only takes one look at Allen Flanigan to determine his strength and athleticism.

From the lines of his body to the way he moves, it’s clear there’s potential stored in his 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame.

But for much of his freshman year, that potential was locked inside with just moments of greatness slipping out here and there with a particularly athletic play on defense or a solid shot. Beyond those moments, he looked like what he was: a freshman.

Then, in the sixth game of his sophomore campaign, Flanigan showed just what all that athleticism can look like once he has control of it.

Flanigan was called for two fouls early, so he basically only had the second half to make a difference in the win against Texas Southern. In 24 minutes of playing time, Flanigan scored 18 points, and made three rebounds and three steals.

Flanigan had two three-pointers, which brings his outside shooting percentage to 39 percent, much higher than the 14 percent he shot his freshman year. But his other points came from his ability to drive hard in the paint. Flanigan went in without fear and with lots of control, continuing to move through contact and finish at the rim. He completed several three-point plays by making the basket and the ensuing foul shot.

“He’s playing big boy basketball,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “He’s able to go downhill and just overpower you. But he’s under control.”

He not only led the team in scoring, but he also sparked the rest of the Auburn team to perform better. When asked what the difference in the second half was, Pearl said: “Allen was out there.”

Defensively, Flanigan is Auburn’s strongest player. He was one of the best defensive players as a freshman, as well, which earned him the second-most playing time of the freshman, behind Isaac Okoro. He’s quick, lanky and long, which allows him to keep up with different types of players. This season, he’s had five steals and a block, which is tied for second behind Jaylin Williams.

Flanigan has also been able to open up opportunities for his teammates to score. He’s made 10 assists, the third-most on the team. He got an even greater chance to run the offense when Pearl put him at point against Texas Southern.

“It was just a new experience for me, playing it in a game,” Flanigan said.

It gave freshman Justin Powell a break while keeping Flanigan and his hot hand on the floor. He gave his teammates some great chances, Pearl pointed out, they just weren’t able to make the shot. Otherwise, he would have come away with several assists.

Assistant coach Wes Flanigan, Allen’s dad, told Pearl early on that his son could play point guard. Pearl didn’t see it. But he gave him some chances to work out at that position in practice, although he’s been careful not to “disrupt” his development at the shooting guard spot.

If Saturday was Flanigan’s audition for the role, he nailed it.

“I think you’ll continue to see Al get some rotations there,” Pearl said.

If Flanigan isn’t in foul trouble, Auburn will try to have him on the court in some capacity or another because he’s one of three who have pulled away and distinguished themselves. Powell and Williams are the other two. Powell leads the team in scoring while Williams has proven to be a challenge for teams to match up with on both ends of the court.

But Flanigan also pairs his physical ability with experience. He may have come off the bench last season, but he has 329 more minutes of college basketball experience than Williams and 429 more minutes than Powell.

Flanigan’s growth comes from experience and another year in Auburn’s systems, but it also comes from the work he put in over the pandemic. He stayed in the gym and didn’t get distracted. He also worked out with Okoro, who was a first-round draft pick and now plays with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Just looking at Okoro and Flanigan, they appear to have similar physical abilities with similar builds. But Okoro had a special something that made him Auburn’s first-ever one-and-done player.

This summer, the two of them battled through pickup games and one-on-one matches, Flanigan said. Since they play the same position, Pearl said Flanigan has tried to model his game after Okoro’s. He gave his all in those summer battles, especially since he knew he was playing a lottery pick. It paid off.

“I think you see it in Al’s offensive tempo,” Pearl said.

Before the season started, Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola described Flanigan as the team’s next Okoro. It was a bold description, one that could be passed off to teammate loyalty, except Akingbola has lots of experience with Okoro. The two played both college and high school basketball together. Akingbola saw hints of Okoro in the way Flanigan was driving to the basket, finishing at the rim and guarding his opponents.

Just a few games in, it appears Akingbola is not too far off the mark. Like Okoro, Flanigan is the team’s best defender. He can impose his will in the paint. He’s shown he can be a game changer.

But the biggest difference of all in Flanigan is an intangible. From the first time he stepped on the court in 2020, there was an air of confidence about him that was not there last year. He no longer looked like the freshman relying on his athleticism to cover up his inexperienced mental errors. Instead, he looks like the court is exactly where he is meant to be.

That confidence has shown in the way he shoots three times as much as last year, the way he isn’t scared of contact and the way he helps his young teammates click on the court together. It even shows in his hair. Because it takes confidence to wear pigtails on national television — and to pull them off.

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Just wanna throw out there that I had flanigan as my most improved player this year 😁😁

but he’s been better than I was expecting. You could see last year he’d try and make those inside moves and he would just fall down. Just not enough control of his body. This year he looks silky smooth moving between people in the lane. And throw in that sweet shot he’s developed and you have a very dangerous offensive player. 

Love hearing how Okoro stuck around this summer to train with the team. I knew that would do wonders for helping develop these guys. Speaks volumes to the culture Pearl has established where guys want to maximize their time here. 

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  • ellitor changed the title to Flanigan can be a game changer

Flanagan is another example of how players get better under Pearl. Brown was not highly rated and yet has made an NBA team, Okeke and Okoro both were highly rated but not considered Elite when they arrived one two years after arriving and other one year after arriving high NBA draft. Look at all the players who may not be in NBA but developed enough to play Pro ball overseas.  All Under Pearl.  In all cases it took the right kind of young men who listened and worked hard.  

If Flanagan keeps improving it would not surprise me to see him in the NBA in a couple of years. He is a good defender but will get better and has pretty outside shot which if he keeps improving will become a great three point shooter. A guy at 6'6" who can play D, drive to the rack, hit the three and pass is always in short supply. 

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