Eli Kaberon
Special to The Tuscaloosa News

CHICAGO – The practices and scrimmages prior to the McDonald’s All-America games are generally more competitive than the game itself. With NBA executives and scouts peering at them from behind one basket, and media members studying them behind the other, 24 of the top high school basketball players in the country compete in drills, battling for pride and recognition.

The goal isn’t only to be seen by future decision-makers; it’s also for personal validation.
Combo guard Collin Sexton, a University of Alabama commit from Mableton, Ga., is considered one of the nation’s best.

In Monday’s two-hour practice, he showed his ability to shoot from long range, attack the basket and defend players several inches taller. The future Crimson Tide player is also blessed with terrific athleticism, which he showcased on Monday evening, following in the footsteps of past slam-dunk contest winners like LeBron James and Vince Carter by taking home the trophy in that event. Sexton wowed the crowd with an array of slams, including a 360-degree windmill.

There is also the mental side of the game. As a team’s primary ball-handler, Sexton knows the importance of being a leader. So even though he and his teammates on the East would only be playing together for a few days, Sexton shouted out instructions during layup lines and gave his peers pointers during the first practice of the week on Monday morning.

“In this atmosphere, I’m just trying to get to know everybody, see what everybody can do, learn where everyone’s spots on the floor are going to be,” Sexton said of the pressure surrounding the McDonald’s game and practices. “Everybody out here is just working, everyone is happy to be here so we’re just trying to prove that we can be out here and that we belong here. So in the competition – for everybody’s team if we play 5-on-5, 3-on-3, stuff like that – it’s just always competitive.”

Leadership didn’t always come easily for the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Sexton. He said as a younger player, he often deferred to older teammates, focusing instead on what he could do personally to help his team. But as he’s matured he’s gotten more vocal, leading with his words and his example.
New day for UA basketball?

Sexton is also hoping to lead a wave of talent to Tuscaloosa. Last November, on the second day of the early signing period, he committed to the Crimson Tide over traditional basketball powers like Kansas, North Carolina and Villanova. He followed that up with a terrific senior year at Pebblebrook High School, averaging nearly 35 points and 15 rebounds per game, earning him the honors of Georgia Class 7A South Player of the Year. He is the ninth player in the 40-year history of the McDonald’s game to attend Alabama, the first since JaMychal Green in 2008.

“Signing Collin Sexton showed that Alabama and Coach Avery Johnson are serious about landing elite talent to play in Tuscaloosa,” said Scott Phillips, national college basketball and recruiting writer for NBC Sports and Bleacher Report. “If Sexton can come in and make an impact, then other recruits can see that Alabama is a place to develop and grow as an elite basketball prospect.”

After the all-star circuit – along with the McDonald’s game, Sexton is also competing for Team USA at the Nike Hoop Summit on April 7 in Portland, Ore. – the guard will turn his attention to his play for the Crimson Tide. He’s excited join his teammates, fitting in with what he calls a family atmosphere around the men’s basketball program.

“I like how everybody is familiar with each other, how everybody is just has the love and the passion for the game,” Sexton said.

He is also eager to learn under Johnson, who both played and coached in the NBA, a level Sexton one day hopes to reach himself.

But before all that, Sexton is focused on competing and challenging himself here this week, both in the competitive practices and the nationally televised game on Wednesday evening.

“I’m just so thankful to be out here, because there’s many other players they could have chose over me and me being able to have this opportunity is amazing,” Sexton said.