FRESNO — Allen Huddleston didn't leave the game of basketball.
It just appeared that way.
After two productive yet uncomfortable years at the University of the Pacific, the Merced High scoring champ packed his bags and headed south along Highway 99.
Huddleston transferred to Fresno State, where he was coveted as a playmaker, and had to sit out the 2011 season.
"The coaches said they had high expectations for me," Huddleston said of second-year coach Rodney Terry and his staff. "That gave me something to work for."
Huddleston operated in the shadows of the Bulldog program, honing his jump shot and handle behind closed doors. Practices became his games, because the actual games were off limits.
"That was the hardest part," Huddleston said, "treating everything like a real game but not getting into an actual game."
For a player that has thrived in the spotlight at every level, from the small gyms of the Central California Conference to Division I arenas, the timeout allowed for personal growth.
He studied basketball, immersing himself in the culture of the sport. He coached some. He refereed some. And he watched -- a lot.
Fresno State (1-1) went 13-20 in Terry's first season, including 3-11 in its last season in the Western Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs now compete in the Mountain West Conference, a rising power thanks to No. 18 UNLV and No. 25 San Diego State.
"I would say my perspective on the game of basketball has changed," said Huddleston, who averaged averaged 31.8 points per game as a senior at Merced High and set the program record with 2,117 career points. "Sitting on the bench, I saw things I wouldn't normally see.
"I looked at things from a coach's perspective. I did some refereeing. The one thing I learned is that there are three teams out there: The refs, the coaches and the players. Everyone is trying to work toward one goal, and you have to have respect for that. So I'd say there's more patience to my game and an understanding of who's on the court."
Understand this: Huddleston is back on the court, cast in a new role as a 'Dog.
Huddleston will be introduced as Fresno State's starting point guard on Friday evening at the Save Mart Center, where the basketball gods have offered a tasty subplot to the Bulldogs' home opener. The opponent: Bob Thomason and the Pacific Tigers.
"I'm excited to see some old faces, but at the same time it's just another game," said Huddleston, who faced the Tigers for the first time in an exhibition on Nov. 2. "I'll know some of their plays; know some of the guys and their go-to moves. But I try not to get too psyched up."
The 6-foot-2 dynamo enjoyed some success in Thomason's offense. He was named a CollegeInsider.com Freshman All-American in 2009 and ranked second on the team in scoring (11.1) as a sophomore.
But he was uncomfortable in a rigid system, running off screens as an undersized shooting guard. He longed to be creator in a wide-open offense like Terry's.
"I didn't like the system they had there and I wanted to play in a system that was more free-ranging ... that allowed me to create and play basketball the way I knew I was capable of playing," Huddleston said. "I wasn't able to do that there.
"There are no regrets" leaving Pacific. "I did learn a lot there, as far as basketball goes, like team defense and how to score without the basketball."
Suddenly, Huddleston was back on the open market. He flirted with Boston College, but gave his heart to Terry, who had hopes of turning Huddleston into his playmaking point guard of the future.
"We really want him to be a guy that gets a chance to man up our point guard position," Terry told The Collegian, Fresno State's student newspaper. "We really expect a big year out of him. He's a dual-threat at the point guard position."
With room to improve.
In his first real action in more than a year, Huddleston had 19 points in a 77-68 exhibition victory over Fresno Pacific, but his eight assists were negated by eight turnovers. In a season-opening, 55-53 loss at No. 24 Texas, Huddleston had three assists and two turnovers. On Thursday night, he led all scorers with 17 in Fresno's 39-30 win over Riverside.
"He's got a lot of room to grow," Terry told The Fresno Bee following the Nov. 2 contest against Fresno Pacific. "I'm going to be hard on that position because, again, we can't be a team that beats ourselves. We have to give ourselves a chance to win. A year ago we had one of the better assists-to-turnover ratios in the country and we have to take care of the basketball."