Let’s face it. There is not much on the line at the NBA Summer League games in Las Vegas this month, unless you are a former college standout like Alabama’s Levi Randolph, looking to grab a few minutes of playing time and impress the brass of a franchise — the Indiana Pacers, in his case. If you are in that situation, then everything is on the line.
For the most part, though, it’s easily packaged programming that fits right in with NBA Marketing which — whether you like the NBA or not — is undeniably effective. With all 30 teams represented in one city that has an adequate number of venues, basketball can do things that logistically more complex leagues like the NFL. All the NBA needs is a gym, a ball and a couple of refs and you’ve got your broadcast ready to go.
In that broadcast, the NBA pushes its top draft choices relentlessly. Over and over, there are pregame features or in-game isolations highlighting the big names coming out of college: DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, Harry Giles, Trae Young (who might prefer a little less of the spotlight at the moment.)
That also means that every time the Cleveland Cavaliers play, the viewer is exposed to a heavy dose of Collin Sexton.
There couldn’t be better news for the University of Alabama men’s basketball program. Take the Monday game between the Cavs and Pacers. In the pregame coverage on ESPN, color analyst P.J. Carlesimo (who worked with Alabama coach Avery Johnson when both were in the Brooklyn Nets organization, where Johnson was head coach) raves about Sexton and talked about what a “tremendous advantage” it was for Sexton to have played a year under Johnson at Alabama.
At halftime, ESPN replayed a canned interview with Sexton that included highlights from Alabama, including Sexton’s game-winning buzzer beater against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. Sexton did his part, playing a solid game with 21 points and four assists in a Cleveland win — and more talk, more references to Alabama throughout. There is a lot of non-Alabama curiosity about Sexton as Cleveland seeks to rebuild its franchise without LeBron James as the center of its universe. No one, obviously, is making Sexton out to be the next James, or even the next Kyrie Irving as a rookie. But people are interested to see whether he will contribute enough with Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr. and the rest of the post-James roster to make the playoffs in an Eastern Conference where eighth place is not a lofty bar.
So in the postgame, it was Sexton again in the postgame interview at courtside, fielding questions about Cleveland’s prospects — and a couple of more about Alabama. The Crimson Tide must have been mentioned a minimum of 20 times in the two-hour broadcast, and didn’t pay a dime for the advertising.
It’s impossible to tell if it has had an immediate impact on recruiting, although that seems to be going well. Alabama got a commitment from Florida four-star forward Diante Smith last week and appears to have made a strong move on 6-foot-5 South Carolina prep star Juwan Gary. South Carolina and Clemson are still fighting but the Gamecocks called out the cavalry on Monday with former stars like Sindarius Thornwell tweeting about the advantages of playing close to home.
That may not determine where a recruit goes, but one thing seems sure. When prospects watch basketball, and they do, they are getting a daily dose of Alabama — and that does matter.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.