Nahiem Alleyne will soon join UConn men’s basketball team armed with confidence, winning experience

Photo of David Borges

Nahiem Alleyne wasn’t recruited very heavily out of Mountain View High in Georgia. Even after he wound up committing to Virginia Tech, he still had some self-doubts.

“I didn’t think I was good enough to play in the ACC,” he admitted. “I thought I was just a mid-major player. There’s nothing wrong with playing mid-major or low-major, but I just thought I was that caliber of a player.”

Alleyne quickly discovered he was higher caliber than he gave himself credit for, starting 27 of the Hokies’ 32 games and averaging 8.8 points per game.

“Starting and playing big minutes, a big role for my team my freshman year, I was like, ‘If I can play here, I can play anywhere,’” Alleyne said.

He was even better as a sophomore, averaging 11.1 ppg and shooting 40.7 percent from 3. But it wasn’t until a first-round NCAA tournament game against Florida that season that he realized what an all-around player he could be.

Alleyne poured in 28 points against the Gators, remarkably the second-most points ever scored in an NCAA tourney game by a Virginia Tech player. He hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Hokies lost in OT, but Alleyne, a self-described introvert while in high school, gained huge amounts of self-confidence.

“I think I took a real big leap,” he recalled. “I always thought I could do better, but that March Madness game kind of proved that ‘I’m here.’”

After finishing his junior season in Blacksburg, Va., Alleyne transferred to UConn in April. Unlike in high school, he had numerous schools calling him practically from the time he entered the NCAA transfer portal: Florida State, Memphis, George Washington, Temple, Cincinnati, South Carolina, UMass, Kansas State ...

“I lost track,” said his father, Daryl, a Long Island native who played one season at Naugatuck Valley Community College in 1995-96.

He chose UConn, for a variety of reasons. Most notably, he’s seen the improvement players have made under the tutelage of Dan Hurley and his staff, and wants a similar career arc.

“I know they’ve got a good record of getting guys that skill-development that they need,” Alleyne said. “R.J. Cole, James Bouknight — those type of guys that made a major impact coming to UConn.”

He added that he loved the environment at Storrs, and the fact that it’s a basketball school and “it’s definitely going to be rocking in Storrs” on game nights. Alleyne also noted that the staff had a particular need for a player like him.

“They said they needed a veteran guy that knows the experience of winning,” he said. “I definitely did a lot of winning (at Virginia Tech).”

Indeed, while the Florida game may have been the best of Alleyne’s career so far, it wasn’t the biggest. That would have occurred this past March, when the Hokies faced Duke in the ACC championship game.

Tech had defeated Clemson, Notre Dame and No. 25 North Carolina en route to the title game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., running into the seventh-ranked Blue Devils, in the midst of the Mike Krzyzewski “Farewell Tour.”

The Hokies rolled to an 82-67 victory. Alleyne didn’t have a huge game (five points on 2-for-5 shooting in 27 minutes), but basked in the victory.

“We knew we were going to win that game from the start,” he reported. “That was a very special game, to play Coach K in his last ACC game and beating him. That was really special.”

If that’s not music to a UConn fan’s ears ...

More than just a 3-point shooter

It’s no coincidence that two of the players Hurley brought in through the transfer portal have hit huge shots over their career. Hassan Diarra hit no less than three go-ahead or game-tying 3-pointers within the final 10 seconds of games last season at Texas A&M. And, of course, Alleyne’s huge 3-pointer in the 2021 NCAA tournament against Florida.

“That’s big for us,” Hurley said. “It’s tough to play or coach here because expectations are always super-high. Then, when you get to March, you have to have the type of mentality: ‘I want the ball, I want the moment, I’m gonna thrive under these pressure-packed conditions.’ It’s not a series in the NCAA tournament, it’s a one-game thing. So, you’d better have guys who believe in themselves.”

“You need that in March,” the coach added.

The Huskies also needed 3-point shooters to execute what Hurley hopes to be a four-out offensive set. Certainly, Alleyne, a career 38.3-percent 3-point shooter, fits that bill. While his long-distance shooting dipped to 37.3 percent last season, he actually shot better from distance in ACC games (39.4 percent) during his three seasons in Blacksburg.

But Alleyne wants to be known for more than just being a 3-point shooter.

“That March Madness game, I felt like that was the game where I showed my whole game, not just shooting the 3,” he said. “I got to the rim, shot a couple of mid-range shots. It proved I could do more than just shoot the ball.”

Alleyne has been back home in Georgia for the past month, finishing up his Virginia Tech online courses so that he can graduate this summer and play as a grad student for the next season (or two). He’s played pick-up games in Atlanta with NBA players like Joe Johnson, and hit the gym for a bit with Adama Sanogo, who was down in Atlanta working out a few weeks ago.

Alleyne remembers playing against Andre Jackson in EYBL games, and remembers 2023 UConn recruit Stephon Castle, a Georgia product, from when Castle was an infant nicknamed “Man Man” and bouncing around on his mom’s lap.

He will arrive in Storrs for Summer Session 2 in a couple of weeks, armed with a college degree, the self-confidence he lacked just a few years ago, and a lot more to his game than just a 3-point shot.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com