Felicia and Johnny Allen are devoted Christians, so they smile when telling you a flood brought them to Rock Hill.
Johnny, a Rock Hill native, and his wife, Felicia, were about to move into a house in a posh Charlotte neighborhood last year. They were closing on the property the following day at 9 a.m. when a rip-roaring storm dumped rain overnight, leaving about a foot of water in the bottom of their new house.
This was a sign, and not a good one.
The quagmire led the pair to purchasing a house in Rock Hill instead, bringing Johnny, a Rock Hill High graduate and former teacher, back to the hometown he left over 15 years ago. It wasn't a Noah-type flood, but the rainstorm changed their future.
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"You can make your big-time wherever you are," said Felicia. "And we're making our big-time right here in Rock Hill, South Carolina."
It's not a stretch to say Johnny and Felicia Hall Allen are big-time. Felicia could be considered a women's college basketball super agent. She represents 20 women's college basketball coaches, including Texas' Karen Aston, Georgia's Joni Taylor and Virginia's Tina Thompson. Three of her clients won their conference's coach of the year award last season.
Allen is a natural sports agent. Her bright personality shines through and she's a social hub, evinced by a backyard at her house that is clearly arranged for hosting.
She has basketball clout, too, after a successful college playing career at Iowa under Hall of Fame coach Vivian Stringer. Allen scaled the ranks of basketball business, working first at Nike as the company's head of women's basketball marketing, and later as a front office executive for the WNBA's Charlotte Sting.
Ten years ago, three college assistant coaches dialed Allen on a conference call and politely demanded that she represent them as they attempted to become head coaches. Allen initially was disinterested in becoming a sports agent, but she relented. After achieving most of her career goals, Allen, who already had a law degree, decided to spend the future helping other people reach theirs.
As long as Allen has internet access she can do her job from anywhere in the world. March Madness kicks off her busiest time of the year, which runs through the middle of May.
"Coaches are not like the athletes who need you everyday, all the time," said Allen. "Outside of negotiating their deal and renegotiating their deal, I serve as an executive coach and a sounding board."
The rest of the year, Felicia and Johnny Allen focus on supporting clients or working on their leadership development organization, called "A Step Up." It's a long acronym that Felicia struggles to remember, but the mission is helping college basketball coaches make leaps in their career, whether into a head coaching position or improving in their current role.
"Opportunities don't go to the best-kept secret," Allen said. "They go to people who are visible and to people who do a great job of telling their story."
A Step Up puts coaches in front of search firms and athletic directors -- Winthrop's Ken Halpin was involved in the Allens' most recent symposium -- to give them exposure and experience. A Step Up also has scholarship programs that sponsor younger coaches, whose school's budget may not include earmarks for professional development. Felicia and Johnny Allen may be most proud of that facet of their business.
"This is our personal ministry," she said.
Felicia and Johnny seamlessly hand off responses to questions during a nearly 2-hour conversation like basketball teammates working a give-and-go. They met in Charlotte in the early 2000s during a meeting at Garinger High School. They talked afterward for so long that Johnny got locked out of the school and had a long walk around the campus to get to his car. Felicia, her cell phone ready in case Johnny got any wrong ideas, drove him to his car, where they talked for another hour.
They went to the Cheesecake Factory and a WNBA game on their first date. Felicia's friends thought Johnny was handsome, that he looked like Carl Weathers from the Rocky movies. Johnny was impressed by Felicia's basketball knowledge while watching the Sting play.
"He said I was so brilliantly beautiful in the light of the Cheesecake Factory," Felicia said, as Johnny laughed.
They're a natural pair, connected by basketball, the Cheesecake Factory, and faith.
Felicia referenced "The Circle Maker", a book by Mark Batterson that talks about praying circles around the things that are important to a person. She told the story of Coastal Carolina women's basketball coach Jaida Williams, who had just lost her job as an assistant coach at UC-Santa Barbara when she attended an A Step Up symposium. Based in part on the impressions Williams made there, she landed a job on Wake Forest's coaching staff. That in turn led to a head coaching opportunity.
If coaches impact thousands of lives in a year, then Felicia and Johnny are indirectly doing the same by influencing coaches.
"Felicia finds value in us all," Williams wrote in an email. "From 'free agents' to head coaches. I am blessed to know her and Johnny. Even more blessed to have experienced A Step Up as a head coach and an assistant coach."
The Allens also work with teams, including the women's basketball programs at UCLA and South Carolina, in an effort to get players to "take ownership of their success." Johnny wears a gleaming national championship ring on his knuckle, earned through his supportive efforts with Dawn Staley's 2017 Gamecocks team that won the NCAA women's tournament. Johnny went down on the court after Staley's team won the championship and a picture of him hugging the trophy sits in the corner of the living room.
Felicia said, "basketball changed our lives." Now, a Biblical rainstorm may have done it again.