There is no curse on Coleman Coliseum. Evil spirits haven’t suddenly taken possession of the old building on the University of Alabama campus, casting spells on open 3-point attempts by the Crimson Tide basketball team.
Avery Johnson, the UA coach, will not conduct an exorcism before the 2017-18 season begins in about eight months. Johnson realizes that regaining home court dominance is important for the next edition of the Crimson Tide, but his formula doesn’t involve casting out demons. Instead, he plans to combine hard work for the returning nucleus with recruits that can make an immediate impact in 2018.
Alabama’s 2017 season ended on Tuesday night with a first-round NIT loss to Richmond. There was obvious disappointment for the Crimson Tide seniors — Corban Collins was visibly emotional as he talked about the end of his college career. But, partly because of college basketball’s recruiting calendar, which sees most elite players choose schools before the season even begins, there has always been a feeling that 2017 was a prelude of sorts. In fact, Johnson said this team actually accelerated his own timetable with a late-season maturity that showed up most prominently in the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
“I really thought we were going to beat Kentucky,” Johnson said. “That didn’t happen, but I thought we had reached the point where we could.”
That expectation might have been more than the collective Alabama fan base entertained for 2017. Things will change next year. For the most part, fans were pleased, if not ecstatic, about 2017 — you can’t please everyone on social media, of course. For 2018, the only acceptable outcome for the fans will be an NCAA Tournament appearance, and preferably not a short visit.
The fans aren’t the only ones looking ahead.
“The way we are recruiting, we want to be able to play against any style,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “As the game (against Richmond) was winding down, I was thinking about guys like Daniel Giddens (a 6-foot-10 transfer from Ohio State that will be eligible next season.) He would have been able to help us in that game.”
There’s more help than that on the way, if recruiting rankings hold true. This is as good a point as any to review how the Crimson Tide roster will shape up next season.
At this point, Alabama has seven players that saw action in the latter part of the season set to return — seniors-to-be Riley Norris and Ar’Mond Davis, juniors Donta Hall, Avery Johnson, Jr. and Brandon Austin and sophomores Braxton Key and Dazon Ingram. There are two players in transition — Giddens, who will be a sophomore, and Nick King, who played limited minutes until mid-December, when a lung infection sidelined him completely (he not only did not play but did not practice, aside from conditioning.) In addition to those nine, there is walk-on Lawson Schaffer who said on social media Wednesday that “Next year is our year!,” at least a hint that he plans to return as well.
The Crimson Tide also signed five players in November — high school All-American guards Collin Sexton and John Petty, Top 100 national prospects Alex Reese and Herb Jones and Mississippi post player Galin Smith. That leaves a total of 14 players currently on scholarship for next season but in a transfer-heavy era, numbers have a way of working themselves out.
Johnson expects the impact to be immediate.
“At the really high level programs, this is what I see based on a panoramic view,” Johnson said. “Are (their) kids young? Yes. But they come in and they are ready to go from Day One. Let’s just take Kentucky for example. There is no benching a De’Aaron Fox until the 25th game of the season because it takes him that long to get going. (Those players) are ready to go.
“We’ve tried to recruit in a way (so) that the returning players have some experience but the guys coming in are ready to go — maybe not all five, but hopefully one, two or three.”
Johnson concluded by saying that his watchword for the off-season will be the same that it has been all along — optimism.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do but I’m still encouraged,” he said. “We’re still right on schedule. Alabama basketball is still trending in the right direction and hopefully the returning players will come back hungry and with a desire to go to another level.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.