SHABBONA — When big brother told Justin Allen he couldn't play ball with the big kids, Allen said, "Yes I can."
When people told him a kid from Malta couldn't play ball for a big school like Arizona State, Allen said, "Yes I can."
And when he was told he wouldn't play again at the college level after battling cancer for nine months, he said, "Yes I can."
Allen shared his story, which includes all those smaller stories, with students at Shabbona Elementary School on Thursday. The 6-foot 9-inch, 1999 Malta High School graduate has penned a children's book, aptly titled "No You Can't, Yes I Can."
"You need to chase your passion, your dream – whatever it is," Allen said. "The stuff that happens to you along the way makes you who you are."
Some of the things that make Allen, 32, who he is include his cancer diagnosis as a college freshman, a professional basketball career that took him to eight different countries, and the support of his two older siblings and his parents, Tom and Faye Allen.
Faye Allen, a retired nurse, said she was devastated when he called to tell her of his diagnosis with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, in the summer of 2000.
"It was awful," Faye Allen said. "I got the call and just lost it."
She said she got on the first available flight with the intention of bringing him home for treatment.
"But his support system – his teammates, his coaches – was so great, I just couldn't make him leave," Faye Allen said. "So I stayed there with him for nine months while he was being treated."
Today, all three Allen children and their families live in Arizona. And along with his inspirational children's book, Justin Allen works as a motivational speaker, provides basketball training camps and looks for others to share their stories.
"I believe if we all share our stories, we can inspire others," Allen said. "If one kid goes home today and says 'I can do that,' it's a win."