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Home Alumni Alumni News A pillar of positivity: Remembering Trojan's basketball legend Phil Allen

A pillar of positivity: Remembering Trojan's basketball legend Phil Allen

If you knew Phil Allen at all, you can probably guess where he met the love of his life.

That’s right—on the basketball court.

It was fall 1972, and Edmonton’s Grant MacEwan College Griffins would soon take flight in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference basketball. The men’s team had a smooth-shooting Allen in the backcourt, while the women’s squad was blessed with a feisty forward by the name of Denise Gravelle.

“The night we were having team photos taken, the photographer was late, so we all decided to have a little scrimmage between the guys and the girls,” recalls Denise Allen. “We had a good time, and later Phil asked me if I wanted to go to the A&W. That’s when they were still delivering on roller skates.”

A coach of distinction

Allen, the legendary coach who led the SAIT men’s basketball team to elite Canadian college status in the 1980s, passed away in mid-January of heart failure at the age of 67, while vacationing with Denise in Costa Rica.

Six months earlier, Phil and Denise had celebrated 40 years of marriage. Both had just retired in 2014—he as Lloydminster-based Lakeland College’s vice president of advancement and student services, she as a graphic designer for the college.

Forty years of happy memories, says Denise.

“Phil was compassionate. Dedicated. Generous. Driven to excellence,” she says. “And he was always happy, so positive. Full of energy. I needed that first coffee in the morning to get going, but he’d be almost dancing—couldn’t wait to start the day.”

Phil ended his coaching career in 2008 as the most successful men’s basketball coach in Canadian collegiate history, with 805 victories over a quarter-century—the majority of them with the Trojans.

Phil’s Men of Troy captured seven consecutive Alberta titles from 1981 through 1987, and 10 in total, along with national crowns in 1982 and 1986. A four-time ACAC coach of the year, he was inducted into the ACAC’s Hall of Fame in 2014.

A dedicated father and husband

Phil Allen with wife, Denise (centre) and their family last November. Allen died Jan. 15 of apparent heart failure at the age of 67 while vacationing in Costa Rica.

In four decades of marriage, Phil and Denise moved from Edmonton to Calgary to Edmonton to Lloydminster and back to Edmonton, raising two sons—Joel, 33, a journeyman electrician, and Cory, 29, who owns Tribute Lounge just off Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue.

Both sons played ACAC basketball—Cory at NAIT, Joel at Concordia University College and Lakeland, where Phil was his assistant coach and head coach, respectively.

In recent weeks, celebrations of Phil’s life have been held on the SAIT campus and in Edmonton, with contemporaries, friends and former players—including Ken Babey, Avery Harrison and Rae Fehr—attesting to his energy and his positive influence.

The testimonials verified what Denise has always known.

“Phil believed in people. He saw their potential. He gave them the inspiration to move forward into better places in life,” says Denise. “Even when we were a young couple, we probably had more than 20 SAIT players live with us while Phil coached the Trojans. He was a lifelong mentor.

“And I always knew that if Phil wasn’t at home,” she adds with a laugh, “I could find him at the gym.”

Written by Todd Kimberley