Tremendous attention has been focused on the University of Alabama men’s basketball recruiting class for the upcoming season, but one of the major additions came from not having a major subtraction.

Braxton Key, a member of the SEC All-Freshman team last season, spent much of the spring contemplating a possible move to professional basketball before deciding at the May deadline to return. The 6-foot-8 forward has come back as a leader as the Crimson Tide prepares for an August trip to Canada for a series of preseason exhibition games.

“Braxton is more mature,” Alabama head coach Avery Johnson said following a Monday practice session that was open to the media. “He is more of a leader on the floor. That time (while Key was considering a pro career) was the blessing. He learned what it will take. Not getting called for the Chicago predraft camp, only getting one NBA workout (with the Boston Celtics) opened his eyes, but he came back hungrier.”

“It was really a positive,” Key said of his spring hiatus. “I realized that I was still far off in a lot of ways, conditioning and so on.

“I went back and watched every game from last season to see where I could improve,” Key said. “I’d look at the replay and say ‘How did I make that mistake?’ I studied my body language, to see where I could be more confident. There were just so many things to work on.”

Key said he had lost 15 pounds in summer workouts, increasing his quickness and improving his defense. He also said he shares the Top 25/NCAA Tournament optimism around the media reports on this team.

“Our freshmen are really talented and we have a core of veterans,” he said. “The chemistry is good. I’m looking forward to the season.”


Focusing on the freshmen

Much of the media focus at the open practice was on the Alabama freshmen, whether it was Colin Sexton leading the team in wind sprints, forward John Petty with a couple of rim-rattling dunks, or Hale County’s Herb Jones with a blocked shot to stop a 2-on-1 fast break.

“The newcomers are all talented but these practices have been a bit of a shock for them in some ways,” Johnson said. “A lot of things they got away with in high school or AAU ball, moves that would get them an open jumper or a dunk, they don’t get away with here. We were one of the top rebounding and defensive teams in the SEC last season, so our veterans are tough to go against.

“It’s about development,” Johnson said. “For example, Herb Jones has gained 10 pounds so he’s up to about 205, but he needs to gain some. Alex Reese is at 255 and we’d like to have him play at under 250. For a lot of those new guys, body composition is important and we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Sophomore guard Dazon Ingram sat out on Monday for what Johnson called “a regularly scheduled rest.” Guard Avery Johnson Jr. missed the practice with what his father called a “mild abdominal strain” that may cause him to miss about a week.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225.