There is no smooth sailing when it comes to managing a college basketball roster these days. Avery Johnson knows that, and knew it before this weekend. His University of Alabama men’s basketball team didn’t capsize with the news of a third transfer, shooting guard Ar’Mond Davis. There was just a little choppiness on the seas and, like any good admiral, the Little General will have to set a course around it.
The way things work in college basketball these days follows this general pattern: the elite players at the highest level play a year, possibly two, and then try to go earn some money, potentially millions on top of millions if they make it — as few do — to the NBA. The best players at what are loosely called the mid-majors often transfer up to test themselves at the power conference level. Meanwhile, players who were not happy with their playing time at the highest level often drop down to another level of competition to be guaranteed minutes in a “showcase” season — or at least to have a better shot at a starting spot. All that motion, and boats — or programs — are bound to rock.
What’s obvious is that the three players who are leaving Alabama knew that they’d have to battle for playing time this year, as all saw limited minutes in the just-concluded season. Davis played more than the other two, Nick King and Brandon Austin, but less than returnees Dazon Ingram and Avery Johnson, Jr. — and that’s before you factor Collin Sexton and John Petty into the equation.
There’s a give-and-take going on right now between expectations, somewhere between the realistic and the wildly inflated. The problem is, the more you watch Sexton play in the April all-star events, the more you think that “wildly inflated” is realistic. At this point, it’s best to say “he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot” and then wait to see what the harvest will be.
You never can tell just how postseason transfers and related movement will affect your team, though. Sometimes the waves lift you up. Take Texas A&M, whose sure-fire lottery pick, power forward Robert Williams, is coming back for another year. For all the “too-early top 25” love that Alabama is getting, I think the Aggies are a bona fide NCAA team if any guard play materializes. Take Memphis, which lost its best player, Dedric Lawson, as well as his brother K.J. in an unexpected departure on Wednesday. That’s a double-edged sword for Alabama, which has a nonconference game set against Memphis in November. The Crimson Tide wants to win, but it doesn’t want Tubby Smith’s team to implode and have a dismal RPI.
Back to Alabama. The Crimson Tide still has a good returning nucleus — Ingram, Johnson, Braxton Key, Donta Hall, Riley Norris and walk-on Lawson Schaffer — and six newcomers. That leaves two scholarships open. Finding the right grad transfer might be difficult — even a good player might look at that roster and wonder where his minutes are coming from. Perhaps a traditional transfer would work, sitting out a year. There’s a chance that Alabama might hold a scholarship to use in 2018. All those options are on the table. A high school signee is possible but the late signing period is like Christmas Eve at Toys-R-Us, where you are fighting a frenzied crowd for a handful of good items.
So far, nothing has happened to rock Alabama’s boat. It will be worth watching to see if the coaching staff adds to the crew.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.