After a lengthy stretch on the road, University of Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson had a couple of high-profile public appearances earlier in the week, the first at the team’s annual Awards Banquet on Monday night and then a guest appearance on Kevin Garnett’s popular webcast Heat Check, where he joined Garnett, Rasheed Wallace and Los Angeles Laker stat Kyle Kuzma in what ended up being a strong infomercial for the Crimson Tide program and for Collin Sexton.
Johnson has always had high praise for his star one-and-done guard.
“The young fella (Sexton) was a dynamic player. I’d say this and people would think I was exaggerating but he was the fastest guy I’ve ever seen with the basketball going from one end to the other,” Johnson said. “It really showed in that Texas A&M game in the SEC Tournament. He only had four seconds to get the ball up the floor for us to win and there are not many people in the country that could have made that play.
“I played against a lot of great players, against KJ (former Celtics star Kevin Johnson) and he reminds me of him … he’s a combination of different guys. From a basketball IQ standpoint, he’s like (Rajan) Rondo. He has that speed and athleticism that KJ and (Russell) Westbrook has in the lane. Then Isiah Thomas, I’m talking about the Pistons’ Isiah Thomas, with that grit, that mid-range (shot), shoot the 3. He’s got the tricks inside the lane. But the toughness — if he plays against Westbrook and Chris Paul on back-to-back nights, there’s not going to be any fear.”
Those are high words of praise, perhaps spoken more freely by Johnson because he no longer has to perform a balancing act of egos with Sexton and 11 other players on his roster. There is also a bit of a recruiting subtext at work.
What is most interesting for Alabama fans, as much as they appreciate Sexton and the greatly entertaining effort he gave, is how the next Crimson Tide is coming together. If the 2018 season showed anything in the Southeastern Conference, it was the league’s unpredictability. If Tennessee and Auburn could share the league title a year ago, who can be ruled out going forward, especially with some teams that struggled (LSU and Vanderbilt) bringing in great recruiting classes?
Without Sexton (and Braxton Key), Alabama may be predicted as a middle-of-the-pack team, or lower. The returning roster, which seems more or less settled (there’s always room for one more, it seems, but it would be surprising if Alabama added an instant contributor), is full of intriguing players. What’s the ceiling for Donta Hall in the post? Will the return to a more traditional point guard role bring more consistency from Dazon Ingram and Avery Johnson Jr.? Can Texas transfer Tevin Mack score at the 15-point-per-game clip that he posted for the Longhorns? Will the freshmen that came in with Sexton — Herb Jones, Galin Smith, Alex Reese and the mercurial John Petty — mature into the core of the team for the next two years? How much will the return of Riley Norris help?
There’s a sense that Alabama wants to spread the floor more, a lesson that it learned firsthand from Villanova. (Everybody else in the nation got the same hard lesson from the Wildcats.) Things got gummed up in the lane last year, so much so that even an athlete like Sexton struggled to find room to operate.
Listening to Johnson this week, breaking that logjam sounds like a first priority.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.