Coleman Coliseum looked the same, and the name across the uniforms still read Alabama, but the recipe was different for the 2017 Tide Tipoff, an appetizer intended to hold off the anxious college basketball fans for two more weeks.
Last year, Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson wanted to give the event an NBA All-Star Weekend feel. He accomplished that once again in 2017, but this time he added one more key ingredient to that mix — NBA-level talent.
“Tonight was a celebration of community,” Johnson said. “A community that supports both (men’s and women’s) teams, a community that is behind us 1,000 percent, through all of the great wins and the tough losses.”
So, when five-star freshman point guard Collin Sexton made his first appearance in front of the Crimson Tide fans walking under the smoke machines and raising both hands to the crowd, the Alabama faithful could finally smell what coach Johnson has been cooking. This is not the same team that was bounced in the first round of the NIT two-consecutive years. It’s a young confident team despite the amplified expectations of signing a star-studded recruiting class.
“(Sexton and John Petty) are both very competitive young men,” Johnson said. “They can pass, dribble and shoot. They compete on the defensive end and they want to get better. A lot of the guys that we have to play and compete against this year have those high-level freshman, especially the ones that are in our conference.”
Unlike last season, the event included a scrimmage between Crimson and White teams that ended in the White team taking home the 106-103 victory in a 20-minute, defense-optional game where both teams started with 50 points. The freshman shooting guard, Petty, gave the crowd exactly what they came to watch, making flashy passes, showing off his ball-handling, and knocking down 3-point shots over defenders.
Joining him as a standout on the White team was Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens, who battled for rebounds and threw back the dunk of the night off a missed 3-point shot by Petty. The 6-foot-10 Giddens will be eligible to play this season after sitting out last year due to transfer rules.
“Now you have a guy like Daniel Giddens,” Johnson said. “You can see he’s 6-foot-10, 250 pounds solid, and he’s a force inside.”
Johnson said he likes the depth he has on the inside for the Crimson Tide this season, noting he thinks junior Donta Hall took a step forward in the SEC Tournament a season ago, and freshman forwards Galin Smith and Alex Reese will bring different elements for opponents to defend.
The women’s team, which returned its entire roster from a season ago, added two highly-sought players of its own. Transfers Amber Richardson and Jasmine Walker will be eligible to play for the Crimson Tide in December. Walker, a Florida State transfer, was 2016 Alabama Miss Basketball and was rated the No. 5 post player in the 2016 class by ESPNW.
“We appreciate our community coming out on a Tuesday night,” Alabama women’s coach Kristy Curry said. “I know that we are very excited. We returned more points than anyone in the SEC and it was the first time we’ve won 20 games in 19 years. Our goal is to take this thing back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a long, long time.”