One of Avery Johnson’s many positives as the University of Alabama’s head basketball coach has been his willingness to play a strong non-conference schedule, building his team and his team’s brand simultaneously.
You have to wonder, though: would Johnson have been quite so ambitious if he had known that two of the key components of the 2017-18 Crimson Tide would be in limbo on Nov. 9 with the first challenge — a neutral site game against Memphis — just three days away? This isn’t expected to be a vintage Tiger team but any club coached by Tubby Smith will be a tough out, especially when your most versatile frontcourt player is on crutches and one of your illustrious freshmen is still waiting (as of Tuesday night) for the NCAA to respond to Alabama’s request for his reinstatement.
The situation for Braxton Key is pretty straightforward. He had surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee on Tuesday (sharing a hospital photo via social media). Recovery times vary but it’s probably fair to say that it would be a very nice Christmas present if Key could be back in action (and playing shape) in time for the SEC opener on Dec. 30. That’s on top of Riley Norris’ sore hip and Ar’Mond Davis ailing knee, which hasn’t allowed him to practice and may keep him out indefinitely. That’s a hospital list that rivals Nick Saban’s linebacker roster in ailments.
The situation surrounding Collin Sexton remained more vague on Tuesday. As with any NCAA-related matter, there’s a degree of uncertainty. That became cloudier on Tuesday when ESPN ran a lengthy rehash of the Sexton case, relying largely on the federal indictment that was released on Sept. 29. The ESPN story correctly noted that the school had declared Sexton ineligible and held him out of a Monday night exhibition game. But a link to the story on Twitter said “the NCAA had declared Sexton ineligible,” which brought quick denials from Sexton’s brother Jordan on social media and from sources at Alabama, who said on Tuesday night the institution was still awaiting word out of Indianapolis.
The effects were obvious on the court in the UAH exhibition, with the Crimson Tide staff clearly having to make adjustments to a playing rotation that had featured Sexton and Key in prominent practice roles. The good news was that some players did step up. Daniel Giddens, the 6-foot-10 transfer from Ohio State, was a factor in the paint on both ends of the floor. Freshman Herb Jones showed signs of being able to play the defensive stopper role, putting the squeeze on UAH scorer Chandler Ward in the second half.
There’s no way of knowing if Sexton will be reinstated in time to play Memphis. In his absence, Dazon Ingram has to be an alpha dog. He seemed to come around to that in the second half, which helped the flow. Also, the Crimson Tide is going to have to shoot better than 14 percent from 3-point range and 50 percent from the foul line, regardless of who Johnson puts on the floor. Sexton and Norris could help that, but John Petty is going to be the prime player in that department (Alex Reese is still developing but that is an interesting dimension to his game.)
Alabama isn’t going to back down, not from Memphis or Minnesota or Arizona. The talent is still there to compete and more could be back on the roster before long. Johnson probably doesn’t regret diving into the deep end of the pool — even if the water is a bit chillier than expected at the moment.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.