University of Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson was available for a sit-down interview with Tuscaloosa News sports editor Cecil Hurt on Tuesday afternoon and touched on several topics ranging from the anticipation for the 2017-18 season to the status of freshman forward Braxton Key, who has still made no announcement about whether he will return for his sophomore season. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Q: First, has Braxton Key given you any update on his status recently?
A: This is exactly how things have gone. Braxton came to me after the season and shared with me that he wanted to declare for the draft without signing with an agent. We supported that 100 percent and we supplied Braxton and his family with all the information available. We shared with him exactly what would happen in the process. In our last conversation, he confirmed that what I had said would happen has happened, exactly as I told him. As of now, he is still in a holding pattern for his final decision.
He has been to at least one draft tryout camp (Boston) and he has been working out a lot in Charlotte (Key’s hometown) with some of his old high school teammates. He did well academically for the spring semester. So we’re just waiting on him, and he has to make a decision by May 24.
Q: Pending that decision, what is your roster situation for next year?
A: ArMond Davis, as you know, has had a change of heart and decided to come back for next year. That leaves us with a scholarship and we are looking at a transfer who could sit out and be eligible next year (2018-19). If Braxton decides not to come back, then we might look at the possibility of a graduate transfer who would be eligible right away but we are not at that point yet.
Q: Moving on to your staff, could you discuss the decision not to renew Bob Simon’s contract (as associate head coach) for the upcoming year?
A: Coach Simon was here for two years and did a really solid job for us. I enjoyed working with him but I did make the decision not to renew his contract. We wish him all the best in his coaching career in the future.
Q: What was the process that led to hiring Yasir Rosemond from the Georgia staff to fill that position?
A: We were contacted by a tremendous number of candidates. You then narrow that down to 10 or 15 coaches, you take your list of about seven different things you are looking for in a new coach and you see who checks the most boxes. Yasir checked all of the boxes. Obviously, recruiting is critical and you ask yourself ‘what can he bring to the table? How can he help us? How can we help him?’ Because recruiting isn’t one guy, it’s all of us (on the staff) working together. With that said, he’s going to have a great deal of success. He has a great attitude, a great work ethic. He has great chemistry with the players. J.J. Frazier was tweeting today about Coach Rosemond, how much he would miss him. He has some very strong connections overseas that can help open up our recruiting in that way.
If the job is 90 percent recruiting, the other 10 percent also counts. You’re looking for chemistry. You’re looking for an individual that represents the institution in a class manner. You’re looking for that right fit. I think Antoine Pettway, John Pelphrey and Yasir will be a dynamic staff. A lot of where we are today is because of Antoine’s growth as a young coach. He’s had an incredibly accelerated growth in the past two years and he is our No. 2 assistant now. But I think he’ll be a head coach somewhere in the near future.
This hiring completes our staff although we are still looking into the possibility of hiring a coaching consultant for basketball. We’ll let everyone know when we’ve explored that a little more thoroughly.
Q: Have you confirmed your dates for a foreign tour this summer?
A: Yes, we will be playing three games in Canada starting on August 2. We’ll play two games in Ottawa and one in Montreal and that should give us 10 days of practice that will benefit our team tremendously. Those contracts are signed.
We are still finalizing our non-conference schedule but if we can get a couple of the games we are negotiating, it should be one of the best non-conference schedules we’ve seen around here in a long time.
Q: Two questions in one about your recruiting class after the All-Star game circuit. Do you expect everyone to report and do you foresee playing Collin Sexton as a point guard?
A: We expect everyone to be on campus May 28. As far as who will play what position, I’m looking at it more as guards, forwards and centers rather than breaking it down as 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Collin can play along with Dazon Ingram, or John Petty or Avery (Johnson) Junior and I’m not going to worry about calling one of them a point guard and one of them a shooting guard. We’ve got guards. That’s how I look at it.
Q: Since the Final Four, there has been a tremendous amount of excitement about the upcoming season in the SEC and now several schools, notably Kentucky and Missouri, continue to add top recruits. What do you foresee?
A: I like where the SEC is going. I always thought this could be a premier league, we just needed to recruit a little better as a conference, not just Kentucky. Now you are seeing that. Missouri is recruiting well, and Florida, Mississippi State and a lot of others. We think we have a potentially strong class. I think we are well-poised as a league to get seven or eight teams in the NCAA Tournament next year, maybe more. There are a lot of ways in which we are going to have to stay competitive in the future, whether that is recruiting or facilities.
Q: A final question on a different note — how has the passing of Coach (Ben) Jobe (Johnson’s college coach at Southern University) continued to affect you over the last few months?
A: I think about him every day. In the (assistant) coaching search, I received a nice note from a young coach at Talladega College telling me how much Coach Jobe had meant to him. He told me that Coach Jobe used to quote me saying ‘It’s easy being born. It’s easy drawing your last breath. What’s hard is everything in between.’ I don’t know if I said that or he did, but Coach gave me the credit, which is just the sort of man he was. And for me, he was a phone call at least every other day, a great resource to draw on. He was a great person and a day doesn’t go by without me thinking of that.”