On stormy, gusty days in Security, Michael Herndon worried about his son Alan, a basketball star at Widefield High. Alan rose high, but not wide at 6-foot-7 and a mere 175 pounds.
“He was so super skinny,” Michael says of the 2013 version of Alan. “I was worried a stiff wind would blow, and it might blow him to Pueblo or blow him to Denver, depending on where the wind was blowing.”
That was then.
Today, Michael looks at a vastly different version of his boy, a member of the Washington Wizards summer league team. Alan has added 60 pounds to his frame, the result of diligent work in the weight room. Alan also was blessed with a surprise three-inch growth spurt, leaving him four inches taller than his 6-6 father.
“I was in denial for a long time,” Michael says, laughing. “To put my arm around his shoulders now, I got to lift up to do that.”
Wyoming coaches took a chance on Alan. They saw a skinny but versatile and skilled and determined player. They brought him to Laramie, where he blossomed into one of the Mountain West’s premier defenders. As a senior in 2017-2018, he averaged 11.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 assists and shot 51.2 percent from the field.
He worked out for the Rockets, Raptors and Suns before playing for the Wizards in two Las Vegas summer league games, averaging five points.
“I’m just optimistic,” Alan says from Las Vegas. “The area I come from, not many people get the opportunity. It’s all been a blessing. I don’t take it for granted, and I try to stay optimistic.”
What area is Herndon talking about?
“Colorado Springs, El Paso County,” he answers. “Most players in the Metro League don’t get the opportunity to show what they can do. I want to inspire faith and hope in the other players that they can try to make it to this position.”
Michael enjoyed his own basketball career as an undersized, feisty, shot-blocking center for Virginia Military Institute. In college, he covered 7-4 Ralph Sampson and 6-11 Olden Polynice, both destined for long NBA careers. He spent almost all of his court time battling in the lane.
Alan, Michael reports, was different. His son often played point guard and took shots, and made shots, from the outer limits of the court.
“I knew he had skills, it was just a matter of someone wanting to invest the time in him,” Michael says.
Wyoming coaches made the investment. Alan redshirted his freshman year, pounded the weights and, as a bonus, sprouted three inches. When he arrived in Laramie, he looked up at star Larry Nance Jr. A year later, he looked Nance in the eye.
Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich watched Herndon play at Widefield. When Pilipovich first saw Herndon in a Wyoming uniform, he wondered if a mistake had been made.
“Who the heck is that?” Pilipovich asked himself as he looked at the taller, stronger, brawnier player.
Pilipovich coached against Herndon nine times in the next four seasons.
“I really like him,” Pilipovich says. “I just think he’s a talented player, but I like even more the way he handled himself on and off the court. He played hard, and he always had a smile on his face.
“The last time we played against him, I told him I was glad he was graduating.”
Pilipovich laughs. That’s not all he said.
“And I told him I admired how he developed and improved. I think he’s going to make money playing this game. I don’t know where, but I think he’ll make a fine living playing basketball.”
Alan hopes Pilipovich is correct. He’s interested in playing in America, or overseas. He says he’s “leaving it all open.”
At his house in Security, Michael laughs as he thinks back to his once-skinny son. Now, when the sturdy Alan returns home, his father pays no heed to the strength and direction of the wind.