Last weekend Red Bull Midnight Run came to Atlanta. [Check out the best dunks and highlights here] The gym was packed with ball players of all different types. There was a good group of big men, but the guard play was unbelievable. Spencer Dixon and Brian Fisher (two high school teammates that ended up playing overseas together) put on a show with their lights out shooting. Their team went undefeated for the entire night. Former Michigan State Spartan Chris Allen was clearly in a class of his own athletically. He quickly proved to be one of the top players in the gym. And Lakiesha Sutton, the first girl to ever play in the Red Bull Midnight Run, was locking cats up and draining threes all night long. We caught up with all of them to talk about their experience at the Midnight Run and learn about their basketball past, present and futures.
Dime: For people who aren’t familiar with you, tell us about your playing experience.
Chris Allen: I played 3 years at Michigan State. Made two Final Fours. Played in the National Championship game. Won two Big Ten Championships. I transferred to Iowa State for my senior year. We made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, lost to Kentucky. After my college career I went and played in Israel for awhile and now I’m back here.
Dime: Tell me more about your college career. What are some challenges you faced at Michigan State and what made you decide to transfer?
CA: See it was real structured up there. My style of play I gotta be able to freelance and play a little bit. For me to be at my best I have to be able to do my thing a little bit. I felt that the system that was in place was limiting my abilities. So the coach and I decided it was best for me to move on. So I moved on to Iowa State, and did my thing.
Dime: Were you thinking about the NBA at all after college?
CA: I had a few NBA looks but it didn’t workout so I went overseas to Israel and did my thing over there. I averaged 15 in the top league in Israel against a plethora of good players so it worked out well for me. There were a bunch of college guys, old NBA players, Iverson played a couple games in our league. So it was crazy man.
Dime: So do you think you were too talented to stay at Michigan State?
CA: Oh not at all. I definitely won’t say I was too talented for the school. It’s just that my style of play didn’t match the system and there was a lot of head butting going on. With two stubborn people it’s hard to find that middle ground sometimes.
Dime: Did you face any challenges overseas in Israel? Was it hard adjusting to the European game?
CA: Basketball is basketball for the most part. It was a bit tough to get used to it but I just went out there and played my game man I wasn’t worried about having to adjust to the European game. I always felt that my game could translate to that type of setting if they let me play the way I’m used to.
Dime: What’s the next step for you? You think you’ll be back in Europe again or over here in the D-League? What’s next for Chris Allen?
CA: I’m actually already on a team for the D-League next year, so that’s my last option. I’m really just trying to focus on the next level right now. The NBA is my ultimate goal and it’s been looking attainable. I’ve been having some really good workouts and my agent is working with me so it’s going pretty good.
Dime: So what made you want to be a part of the Red Bull Midnight Run?
CA: Well at first I thought it was just going to be a pick up type of thing. You know. People coming out and playing pick up with other good players in Atlanta so of course I wanted to be a part of that. I consider myself one of the best players in the city so whenever it’s time to put my game to the test I’m all for it. Then after I got here I figured out it was more to it and that made it even better. It brought the competition out of me a little bit so it’s great to be a part of the whole thing man.
Dime: Do you think Atlanta has the talent to compete against the other cities?
CA: Definitely. If you’ve ever played basketball on a high level you know what to expect. I know we looked pretty good in the gym today, but the same way it was here is how it’s going to be in other cities. Other cities are going to have guys that have played overseas and D1 too, so I don’t wanna say we’re better than anybody, but it’s gonna be fun trying to prove that on the court.
Dime: What do you think you can bring to the table for the Atlanta team?
CA: I think I can offer a lot to the table. Whatever the team needs me to do I’m willing to do it. I can shoot, dribble, pass, play defense. I’m confident in my abilities across the table so I’m ready to see how we stack up against the other competition. I just enjoy playing basketball simple as that.
Dime: Tell us about your playing experience
Lakiesha Sutton: I played my high school ball in New Jersey. I got recruited to play at South Carolina by Dawn Staley when she first took the job, so I got to play in the SEC. I made the all SEC team as a freshman, first and second team throughout my four years and my last year I was all SEC defensive team and an AP honorable mention All-American.
Dime: Now that your college career is over where has the game taken you?
LS: I just recently graduated. Unfortunately I had two knee injuries so I’ve just been using the dead period from December to now to rehab and just get back in shape. Right now I’m playing in a semi-pro league just trying to get my game back in top shape.
Dime: You’re the first girl to participate in Red Bull Midnight Run, what made you feel that you could hold your own with the fellas out here?
LS: I’m used to playing with boys. I have five brothers so I grew up playing against nothing but guys. Since I’ve been back here in Atlanta I only play against guys at the LA Fitness just to try and keep my game sharp and keep my intensity up. I know that guys play stronger and faster, so when DIME Magazine invited me to the Red Bull Midnight Run I was excited to come out here and play. I wasn’t intimidated at all.
Dime: In college who was the best player you had a chance to play against?
LS: There were so many playing in the SEC. Everybody was good for the most part. The best team I played against was UConn my freshman year. I had to guard Maya Moore as a 17-year old freshman, but like I said I pride myself on the defensive end. Every game we played my responsibility was to guard the best player on the other team. That’s another reason why I wasn’t scared to play with the guys today. It’s all about playing physical.
Dime: Do you think Atlanta has what it takes to compete against the other cities?
LS: Definitely. I saw a lot of really good players in the gym today. We had some great shooters, great athletes, and great defenders. We’ve got it all so I definitely think Atlanta has a chance to make some noise in the Red Bull Midnight Run Finals.
Spencer Dixon and Brian Fisher:
Dime: Tell us about the chemistry the two of you have built together by playing with each other.
The chemistry we’ve gotten to build together is great. Over the years we’ve been playing with each other. Both being from Kennesaw, both playing at Kennesaw Mountain High School and playing pick up all the time we’ve learned how to play with each other. Whether it’s within a system or without a system. I know where he’s going to be, and he knows where I’m going to be. We really just click on the court so it’s always good to run with my man.
It’s great playing with a good point guard like Spencer. I feel that together, Spencer and myself could be one of the strongest backcourts anytime we step on the court. Just seeing each other grow, separating after high school and reuniting to play with each other in the pros was great. It was great to see how each of our games developed overtime. The chemistry we have to find each other and get each other open for shots is crazy. He makes me better and I make him better.
Dime: Who are some people that have helped the two of you grow as players over the course of your careers?
Jeremiah Boswell from The Skill Factory is the first person that comes to mind for me. What he’s been able to do with TSF has been great. He’s been a big key for us. He reached out and did a lot for us when we needed a helping hand to prepare for the pros. He worked us out hard and prepared us for the challenge of playing overseas. He’s played professionally overseas before so it’s great to learn from someone that’s been there.
Yeah Jeremiah is a big part of our success. He’s a great person off the court as well, not just basketball wise. He’s a great trainer and really helped our games improve. Also, our first professional coach overseas had a real positive influence on us and helped us grow as basketball players and as people in general. But I definitely want to give a big shout out to Jeremiah Boswell and TSF.
Dime: Spencer, you actually were featured in Dime during your college days for your desire to put Kennesaw GA on the map, is that still among your goals to this day?
SD: Absolutely. The grind never stops. I’ve always played basketball with the intention of bringing more national attention to Kennesaw. It’s one of the most slept on cities basketball wise in all of Atlanta, so I’m definitely excited for this opportunity of playing in the Midnight Run and I want to use it as a way to put on for my city.
When you first heard about Red Bull Midnight Run, what were your thoughts?
SD: I just love the game. I just love playing against good competition, especially new competition. So when I got the invite for Red Bull Midnight Run I couldn’t pass it up. It’s a lot of great talent in Atlanta. If you ask me it’s one of the most talented cities in the nation as far as basketball goes. So I couldn’t turn it down. Dime is on board with it and they’ve supported me in the past so it’s a great opportunity to come out and play with some good people.
BF: I got the word about Red Bull Midnight Run from a few different people I know. Anytime there’s an opportunity to get in a gym I’m gonna jump on it. When I found out Red Bull and Dime Magazine were involved I just felt blessed for the opportunity to be a part of something this big. But any opportunity I get to play the game and prove myself I want to take advantage of it. I’m just blessed to be out here competing against a talented group of guys in Atlanta.
Dime: What is it that you two want from the game? Whether it’s making it to the NBA, or continuing your careers overseas. Realistically speaking, what are your goals in terms of basketball?
SD: For me personally, the ultimate goal is the NBA. I feel that I’m good enough, but you can’t rush it. I like the slow grind. I know that it’s gonna take hard work and determination and I’m willing to take the long and narrow road so to speak. You have to work with the opportunities God puts in front of you. So for now I’m going to keep doing this overseas thing, keep getting better, keep working hard, and see where that takes me. As long as I know that whenever I get my shot I’ll be ready.
BF: Really just staying focused. With basketball you never know what type of opportunities can come up. You always have to be focused on the game and ready to take on a new challenge. The ultimate goal is definitely the NBA. I feel that I’m big enough, skilled enough, and talented enough to compete at that level. I always aim high with my goals because I don’t believe in limiting myself.
Dime: If you two were to get a shot in the D-League you’ll be able to have an easier path to achieving your ultimate goals of playing in the NBA.
SD: I definitely think I’m talented enough and I work hard enough to compete at that level. So if I get a shot and it’s the right situation I would take full advantage of that. It’s definitely an easier path because it’s in the states. All I need is to get my foot in the door, once my foot in the door I’m gonna kick it open. Right now I’m just focused on getting better, working out as hard and as often as I can to make sure that I’m ready whenever the opportunity presents itself.
BF: Definitely, I feel like I’m ready now. There’s no reason why I can’t see myself in the D-League producing. I would love to get an opportunity with a D-League team because I know I’ll be that much closer to achieving my goal. With me, I feel that all it takes is the right person to see me play. I’m confident enough in my abilities to where I know I can produce well enough to get some attention. So if the opportunity presents itself I’m ready to take advantage.
Dime: So from what you guys saw in the gym today, do you think Atlanta has what it takes to compete against the rest of the cities in Red Bull Midnight Run?
SD: Definitely, and I haven’t seen all the other teams but I’ve been around the country a little bit and I don’t think any other city can hang with us. The talent in Atlanta is crazy man. Playing against these guys out here has helped me become the player I am right now. There’s no question that we have what it takes to go out to Barclays Center and win the whole thing. Representing the A is important to us, so when it comes down to it I know we’re gonna take it personal on the court and give it everything we got.
BF: Without a doubt, just being from out here and seeing the city come together as a whole and witnessing the talent that we’ve grown here over the years I feel like Atlanta can easily win the whole thing. We take the game seriously out here. Other cities can give us their best shot but I don’t see any reason why we can’t win the whole thing.
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