Avery Johnson stood off the court wearing the smile of a confident man Tuesday morning amidst the chaos of 350 campers at the Coach Avery Camp inside Coleman Coliseum.

The Alabama men’s basketball coach was excited about the growth of his third-annual camp, but he was also enthusiastic about his 2017-18 team.

The jubilance was equal parts a veteran core coming back, Braxton Key deciding to return and an uber-talented freshman class already on campus.

Led by Collin Sexton and John Petty, that freshman class, which also includes Alex Reese, Herb Jones and Galin Smith, enlivened an already lively Johnson.

“They’re young and very energetic,” Johnson said. “They’re all different. It’s amazing to see all their different personalities, the way they recover from practices or weight training sessions or when we run on the track. Half of them are happy, half of them aren’t but it’s pretty cool to see how they’re picking up on things.”

The team is limited in the hours it can work together on the court (Johnson said the team is allowed two hours per week). However, the young guys have made an early impression.

“We had one little session where we allowed — for about 30 minutes — the freshmen to play against the upperclassmen,” Johnson said. “Pretty interesting little match there. The competition is good. All of our freshmen can play. They all have different strengths and they’re pretty much playing to their strengths while trying to learn and adapt to a new culture here with college life. It’s a new type of energy we have and it’s pretty interesting how that’s playing out on the court.”

Of course it’s not all about the freshmen. Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key return as sophomores ready to help take the team to the next level. Throw in Riley Norris and Donta Hall and Johnson knows he’s onto something.

“I think the key part is not the freshmen; the key is our returning players,” Johnson said. “Everybody is talking about the freshmen and I’m great with that, but it’s Riley Norris and Braxton Key and Avery Johnson Jr. and Dazon Ingram and Donta Hall. It’s their responsibility and we can’t forget about those guys. They have the experience but at the same time, with the way our freshmen are picking up things, even though it’s still early, they’ll have their opportunities.”

Asked specifically about Hall, who begin to display a post game toward the end of last season, Johnson joked his big man finally took his advice.

“He started shooting his left shoulder jump hook in the SEC Tournament and I’ve been trying to get him to shoot that jump hook for two years,” Johnson said. “He waited until the last couple games of the season. I think his deal is having confidence in his body. You know, Donta came to us at 192 pounds and now he’s up to 220, 230 pounds, so just having that confidence to make moves against bigger guys was big for him.”


Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.