It was a September day in 2007 and Seth Allen was riding his bicycle around his suburban Virginia neighborhood the same way he now plays basketball for Maryland — with speed and flair, but also a hint of youthful recklessness.

Allen wasn't holding on to the 10-speed's handlebars when he hit a rough patch of pavement and lost control, tumbling off the bike and shattering his left elbow in so many places that doctors had to insert two plates and 24 screws to stabilize the joint.

Five and a half years later, the screws and plates remain in the freshman guard's shooting elbow along with the memory of surgeries, painkillers and months of rehabilitation during which his athletic future was clouded.

Today, a seven-inch scar winds its way down the underside of his forearm and across his elbow.

"You know how when you fall, you try to reach out and save yourself?" Allen said Tuesday as Maryland (19-8, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared to travel to Georgia Tech (14-12, 4-10) for a game on Wednesday night.

"My handlebars turned and my arm got caught up, and it snapped my arm and broke it. And then I fell on it, and the thing that holds the elbow together shattered."

His range of motion remains limited. To demonstrate, he stood in the Comcast Center tunnel after practice Tuesday and extended both arms with his palms up. The left arm reached a few inches shorter than the right. The limitation isn't evident in his play.

"The doctor said his elbow had to be pieced back together like a jigsaw puzzle, and they didn't think he would have full use of his arm," said Allen's mother, Deborah. "The physical therapist would come in three to five times a day and move his arm so that scar tissue would not move in, and he would just scream. I think that was the hardest thing we ever went through."

The 12-year-old underwent a months-long recovery during which he had to be home-schooled. After that, he resumed playing not only basketball — he later starred at Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va., and at Fredericksburg Christian — but football as well. "I cringed on every [football] hit," said his mother, a U.S. Justice Department records management specialist.

Allen said he vividly recalls the period surrounding the injury, particularly being told there "might be a chance I couldn't play again. I remember screaming and crying, but I didn't want to be a kid who couldn't play basketball.

"I remember there were times I'd play football and a dude would hit my elbow and I'd get a stinger and had to sit out a play. But then I went right back in. Probably three years ago, I wouldn't be diving on the floor. I learned to get comfortable. I don't play cautious."

This season, Allen leads Maryland's freshmen in scoring at 7.6 points per game. He's also been prone to turnovers.

Despite his history, Allen manages to play the game with the joy and abandon of a kid riding his bike. Allen, who seems young even for a freshman — he only turned 18 in November — commands attention because of his quickness and tendency to attack the defense.

Fans may not realize that Allen is naturally right-handed. He eats and writes with his right hand and kicks a soccer ball right-footed. But he shoots a basketball with his left hand.

If Allen's left elbow had not recovered sufficiently, he may have tried shooting with his right hand. He got extra practice with his right hand when he broke the left in his senior year of high school — another obstacle.

"I always practiced with my right," he said. "If you look at my right arm, it's much bigger and stronger than my left arm is."

The same daredevil qualities that contribute to Allen's success can confound coaches.

He had eight turnovers in the 83-81 victory over Duke on Feb. 16 in which he also scored 16 second-half points and converted the game-winning free throws.

He was benched during the first half of the first Duke game — a 20-point loss in January — after being late for a team meeting. He told his mother he overslept.

Like other Terps, Allen has occasionally been pulled for stretches of games by coach Mark Turgeon for taking ill-advised or rushed shots.

"I understand Turgeon's position, but you've got to let some of them work through it," Allen's mother said. "You lose your confidence when every time you make a mistake you're going to get pulled."

Turgeon said Allen "wasn't very coachable at first. But he realized that I was going to win — and he wasn't — so he's become a lot more coachable."

The youngest of four children, Allen selected Maryland partly so he could remain close to his tight-knit family. He was also recruited by Virginia and VCU, among other schools.

Allen's brother, Brandon, 25, an insurance agent, painted a picture of Allen in his No. 4 jersey with his arms held high. Brandon Allen holds the painting up during home games so the crowd can see.

In Allen, Maryland believes it may have a less-developed version of Shane Larkin, the sophomore Miami point guard who averages 13.1 points. Larkin leads the ACC in steals (2.1 per game) and is fourth in assists (4.3 per game).

"I made that comparison when we first started practicing," Turgeon said. "Larkin was really fast and Seth has some speed. I think there's a lot of comparisons now. The difference is Larkin is under control most of the time, if not all of the time, and Seth's not yet."

Allen trails only Nick Faust on the Terps with 24 steals. Allen said he played cornerback in football and became skilled at timing his break on the ball.

Football also brought out Allen's inherent toughness. "He's a football guy. He's got those leadership skills," said former Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg, now an ESPN commentator.

The ball seems to find its way into Allen's hands at the end of games.

Against Florida State on Jan. 9, Allen's 3-pointer was blocked with two seconds remaining and the Terps trailing by one basket in a 65-62 defeat.

On Feb. 16, he had his signature moment against Duke when he drove the ball and stepped to the foul line of a tie game with 2.8 seconds left.

The sellout crowd went silent as he shot. Seated across from the Maryland bench, his mother said she could not bear to look.

But Allen could hardly have been calmer.

"Oh yeah, I had a smile," he said. "I was relaxed. It was mainly because Nick [Faust] just made me laugh. It was just an inside joke. We shot a bunch of free throws before the game so I was pretty comfortable in my routine."

If Turgeon didn't appreciate Allen already, he did after those made shots.

"He was a very confident player with 2.8 seconds left," the coach said. "Which was nice."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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