No. 25 LSU at Alabama
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Coleman Coliseum
Records: Alabama 13-11 (5-6 SEC), LSU 18-6 (9-2 SEC)
Radio: 95.3 FM
When the Alabama basketball team played LSU in Baton Rouge on Jan. 29, John Petty watched the opening tip from the bench.
“I had it coming,” Petty said. “I hadn’t been doing what I needed to do in practice.”
What happened that day could have pushed Petty into a slump. Instead, two things — his brief benching (he wound up playing 33 minutes although he scored just four points) and the fractured wrist suffered by his teammate and close friend Herb Jones — served as a message sent for the Crimson Tide’s junior guard.
“I was a man about it,” Petty said. “I owned it and I told Coach (Nate) Oats that it wouldn’t happen again.”
Petty also assumed the defensive role of Jones, one of the best defenders in the Southeastern Conference. That has meant Petty, a natural small forward, has had to take on the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s power forward and step up his role as a rebounder as well.
In the four games since that first meeting of the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, Petty’s scoring is off slightly, but he is still averaging 14.3 points per game, including 41 total points in last week’s overtime games at Georgia and Auburn. He is also averaging 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists in that stretch, along with the increased defensive duties.
“When I found out the news about Herb, I knew what I had to do,” Petty said. “It’s part of being mature, being a leader. It’s an adjustment. Most of the guys I guard now are about as tall as Herb, who I guard I practice, but they are just heavier and thicker. I’ve gotten stronger, but it’s hard to put on weight during the season when you are playing two nights a week and practicing four days a week. But I’m going to really working at it in the off-season.”
In the previous offseason, Petty wasn’t so certain of his future plans. When former UA head coach Avery Johnson was replaced by Oats, Petty entered the transfer portal, intending to explore options. But a couple of conversations with Oats convinced Petty that he could thrive in a new system.
“It’s worked out to be really good,” Petty said. “This summer takes me back to my old high school days (when he lead Mae Jamison High of Huntsville to consecutive AHSAA state championships). Coach Oats described what it was going to be like and he’s been true to everything he said. So I feel like I’m finally able to play like myself.”
Petty is likely to face another choice in the upcoming off-season. He says he has given no thought yet to any professional possibilities — “that’s for after the season” — but he is likely to avail himself of the opportunity to apply to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee for feedback about his draft stock and, even if he elects to enter the draft, he can withdraw by the end of May and return to school.
Petty’s decision will also involve his mother, Regena Petty, and his desire to care for his two-year old daughter, Aubrielle.
“I’m sure we will look at it at the end of the year,” Petty said, “but the family is really for whatever makes me best.”
Jones, who fractured his wrist after falling to the floor when trying to catch a lob pass — he was inadvertently contacted by LSU freshman Trendon Watford — played seven minutes at Auburn last Wednesday and should be available for Saturday’s critical SEC game.
LSU comes into the game ranked No. 27 in the most recent NCAA Net rankings, while Alabama is No. 39.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @cecilhurt