Jillian Alleyne has been busy on the basketball court for the University of Oregon the past four years.
The senior forward has averaged a points and rebounds double-double each year she’s been there, and this season she began an assault on school, conference and NCAA records books. Alleyne became the Duck’s all-time rebounds leader in November, the Pac-12’s all-time rebounder last weekend, and earlier this month grabbed both the school and conference records for longest string of double-doubles, at 29 games.
Alleyne now has the fourth-most career rebounds in NCAA history, holds the school and conference record for single-game and single-season rebounds, and is five double-doubles away from tying the UO and Pac-12 all-time record of 88.
What is less widely-known about Alleyne is her tremendous work off the court. Not only is she a multi-year honor roll student, the Southern California native does extensive community service work in the little free time she does have. And she does it with a smile that belies the challenges she faced growing up.
Though there is still a lot of basketball season left with the outcome for the Ducks yet to be determined, Alleyne has already left a legacy at Oregon.
“She is an amazing face not just for women’s basketball, but for the University,” coach Kelly Graves said.
An early start in basketball, with challenges
Alleyne began playing basketball at age 4, and was on her first team at nine years old. Not only was she good at the sport, she loved it.
“When it was gift-giving time, my mom always gave me a choice of a basketball or a Barbie, and I always took the basketball,” Alleyne said with a laugh.
By middle school she was playing on three or four club ball teams at the same time, which made for busy weekends. Finally in her freshman year at Ayala High School in Chino Hills, Calif., Alleyne realized she was a good player, and she began to work harder. In her sophomore year she averaged a double-double, helped lead the team to both a league and state section championship, and was named first team all-CIF Southern Section Division 1A.
But behind the success, Alleyne’s single mother Pamela Williamson was struggling to support her and her younger sister while her stepfather was in and out of state prison. Mother and daughters bounced around eight different cities when Alleyne was growing up, and experienced bouts of homelessness. In her junior year of high school, while balancing school, basketball and volleyball, Alleyne and her family were evicted from apartments twice. In middle school the girls lived with their grandmother for a time. In other instances, the family stayed with friends between new places to live.
Through it all, Alleyne kept up her grades, excelled in her sports and remained upbeat.
“I’ve always been a positive person,” Alleyne said. “My positivity stems from my mom, who was always very hopeful and urged us to keep going. I also grew up in the church, and my faith helped me get through hard times too.”
“My mom was very big on grades. She always had me get a weekly report from my teachers as to how I was doing in classes.”
Alleyne transferred to Summit High School in Fontana prior to her junior year, where she again excelled. In her final season there she again lead her team to a section championship, and scored 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in the state championship game. Then it was off to Oregon, to play for former coach Paul Westhead.
The Ducks struggled as a team Alleyne’s first two years, finishing near the bottom of the Pac-12. But outside of basketball, she was thriving in the classroom and having fun working in many community service capacities – a tradition she has continued throughout her years there. It is something that Katie Harbert, Oregon assistant athletic director of student-athlete development, said makes Alleyne stand out.
“She came here and from day one, got involved in different ways,” Harbert said. “I work with all of our student-athletes, and I’m always impressed by the ones who show up and ask how they can get involved. You know that someone along the way taught them that it’s important to give back. That’s Jill.”
Alleyne has worked a lot with children, and a special passion of hers has been doing activities with hearing-impaired youth. She said the first deaf person she met was a co-worker of her mother’s, which inspired her to take a sign language class in high school. Now Alleyne is trying to organize an event at Oregon where she can help teach basketball to deaf students. Harbert is helping to make that a reality.
“What I like about Jill is that her intentions are pure – she wants to help people,” Harbert said. “Her heart is in the right place.”
Alleyne’s work has also made an impression on Oregon deputy athletic director Lisa Peterson.
“I’m always amazed at athletes who have time to do extra within their schedules,” Peterson said. “Jill is an amazing individual, both on and off the court.”
The Duck Athletic Department is still talking about Alleyne’s trip to the Dominican Republic last summer with a group of students who went there to help with a building project, as part of the “O Heroes” program. It was a hard job, supplies were limited, and showers were non-existent.
“On this trip there was more adversity than usual as far as getting materials to work with,” Harbert said. “Our group was frustrated at one point, and it was Jill who came up with the wise words to help the group move on.”
Peterson said that is typical of Alleyne.
“They were in a tough community and she thrived because she connected with the community – she was playing with little kids,” Peterson said. “Jill looks adversity in the face and conquers it.”
Peterson said Alleyne’s spirit extends to her peers, as well.
“With the positive energy she has, Jill is the one her friends go to when they need an uplifting moment,” Peterson said.
A system to thrive within
Just after her sophomore season ended, Oregon declined to renew Westhead’s contract. They opted instead to hire Graves from Gonzaga University, where he’d spent 14 years building a power house program. The change wasn’t easy for Alleyne.
“It was one of the hardest transitions I’ve had in a while, and one of the most uncomfortable,” she said. “To go from a system where all I know is running and fast breaks to a system that had structure, where you call plays and follow directions, was really difficult.”
At the same time, Alleyne was sold on Graves from day one.
“When I first met coach Kelly, I knew he was special,” she said.
Graves had similar thoughts about Alleyne.
“I saw so many great qualities in her aside from basketball,” he said. “She’s a good student, a good citizen, loves being a Duck and is invested in the program. She’s hungry and wants to win. She’s really helped build the culture here.”
Graves began the team molding process quickly after he arrived. Some players left that first year; others were released. Alleyne kept working on her game.
“She works hard, no question about it,” Graves said. “I have never had to tell her to go hard. She also puts in work on her game outside of practices.”
Already exceptional as an underclassman, Alleyne has become even better under Graves, and the records are continuing to fall now, at midseason of her final year as a Duck.
Peterson said Alleyne is a complete natural.
“She has a knack for getting the ball – her fingers are magic,” Peterson said.
“She’s got a nose for the ball, and her sense of timing is off the charts,” he said.
But he said Alleyne has only begun to realize her full potential.
“She has a pro body, but she doesn’t yet have a complete pro skill set,” Graves said. “She is getting it, though – she is learning what it takes to be an elite player.”
Alleyne will likely get a chance to put those skills to work this summer in the WNBA, as she is projected as a first-round draft pick. But the communication disorders and sciences major said she only has one thing on her mind right now, and that is the season in front of her. Oregon went undefeated in preconference play this year, but are 1-5 in conference play, which included a big win Sunday over California.
“I want to finish successfully in college, and getting to the NCAA Tournament is (the team’s) top priority,” Alleyne said. “We still have so much season left, and I really think we can turn things around.”
Jillian Alleyne career marks, as of Jan. 20, 2016:
Jillian Alleyne is Oregon’s all-time leading rebounder. She jumped Bev Smith (1,362 boards) for first on Nov. 19, 2015 in a win over Hampton. Alleyne now has 1,573 career rebounds as she passed Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike on Jan. 17, 2016 to become the all-time leading rebounder in the Pac-12.
Alleyne also owns Oregon’s and the Pac-12’s single-game records for rebounds (27) plus UO’s and the conference’s single-season records for rebounds (519 as a sophomore). She now has the fourth most rebounds in NCAA history.
Until posting six rebounds in a loss at Oregon State on Jan. 8, Alleyne had a double-double in 29 straight games, breaking her own Pac-12 and UO record of 21 straight games. It was the third longest career streak in NCAA history, behind Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris (112) and Robert Morris’ Artemis Spanou (33).
Alleyne has 83 career double-doubles, good for second all-time at Oregon and the Pac-12. Bev Smith has the UO record, with 88 in her career (before the NCAA or Pac-12 sponsored women’s sports). Chiney Ogwumike owns the Pac-12 record with 85 double-doubles. Alleyne’s 29 double-doubles as a junior set both the UO and Pac-12 single-season records.
Alleyne ranks fifth all-time at Oregon with 1,939 points scored. Alison Lang holds the UO record with 2,252.
-Information courtesy of the University of Oregon Athletics Department