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National Columnist

Ex-Sun Devil Justin Allen beats cancer, now has goals for others

Ten years later, he tweeted me.

His name's Justin Allen. He was playing basketball for Arizona State when I wrote about him in 2003. Do you remember Justin Allen? Neither do I. Just being honest. Ten years ... that's 500 weeks ago. Write four or five stories a week, and that's what -- 2,000 stories? Maybe 2,500? I didn't remember Justin Allen.

Until he tweeted me.

Found an article you wrote in 03 after my battle w/ cancer. Brings back great memories thank you #Asu

I clicked the article. And then I remembered. Ah, yes. Him. The name slipped my mind, but not the story. Who could forget a story like that? A guy gets cancer and counts himself lucky. Tells me in 2003 that he's going to take his good fortune -- getting cancer and having the chance to beat it -- and use that to inspire others. Sure, I remember Justin Allen.

So I called him this week. Wanted to know if 32-year-old Justin Allen had kept the word of 22-year-old Justin Allen. He'd beaten cancer, but had he paid it forward, as he'd said he would back in 2003? Had he become a coach, a motivational speaker? Or had he done like so many people do when the euphoria of the moment fades and it's time stop dreaming, and time to start doing? Dreaming is fun. Doing is hard.

Turns out, Justin Allen is still dreaming. But also, he's doing. He did become a youth basketball coach. He did become a motivational speaker. He does have a website and he is starting a company, both with the goal of inspiring kids to reach their dreams. And he is writing a children's book with the same message.

"My whole philosophy is: Everyone has a passion in life, and the goal is to go chase that," Allen said from Chandler, Ariz., where he settled after playing professionally overseas for five years. "You're going for it. Even if you fall short, you're still successful -- because all the things you've developed along the way makes you who you are as a person."

Allen was talking to me on his cellphone. He was talking fast, which is what he does, and he was talking as he drove.

"Cruising for caffeine," he said. "I don't sleep much. I just kind of ... go. I have a lot of projects, and I end up staying up pretty late at night doing stuff. Side projects, things like that. We only get 24 hours a day, and it doesn't seem like enough."

Not when you're married with two young kids and you're writing a book and running a website and arranging to speak at schools and hospitals. Not when you're coaching a club basketball team and writing college coaches on your players' behalf. In addition to holding down an actual full-time job, working in sales for a data warehousing company, traveling a decent amount.

So what about last night, I asked Justin Allen. What time did you go to bed last night?

"I think it was about 4:30 [a.m.]," he said.

What were you doing?

"I was making highlight films for some of the kids [on the team]."

He just goes. He just does. His latest dream is his most ambitious dream yet: the children's book. It's about a kid who has big goals, but encounters naysayers and obstacles. It's a lot about the journey of Justin Allen. He's calling the book, "No You Can't ... Yes I Can." He's writing it, but he'll find kids with a talent for art to illustrate it. He'll self-publish it. To that end he could use some help. If you're interested, here's how.

Me, I'm interested in Justin Allen. What makes a guy like this tick? This is a hard world we live in. Selfish. Lots of competition out there, so getting ahead is a battle. Most people stick their sail in the air and try to go as fast as they can. But there are other people -- volunteers, counselors, school teachers -- who are happy to provide the breeze.

Justin Allen is one of those people. I asked him how that happened. The cancer, he said. It was the cancer.

"I remember when I was sitting in the hospital and people I didn't even know would come in and lift my spirits, and everyone in the [cancer] division," he said. "I got so many letters in the mail. Some guy in Tempe, selling real estate or something, said he had lymphoma and wasn't supposed to have kids because of the chemo, and now he has five kids. And that gave me hope, because they said I might not have kids either. I read his letter and said, 'You know what? I can do that.'

"I listen to a lot of inspirational people. I'll get on YouTube and look up motivational stuff. [Actor] Will Smith is someone like that. He's quoted as saying, 'If you're not making someone else's life better, then you're wasting your time.' That's really stuck with me. It's pretty selfish if you have something you can share and you don't share it.

"I have something to share. Cancer happened to me for a reason, and it changed my outlook on life. I believe I can make a difference for someone out there."

No you can't ... yes you can.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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