Can John Petty Jr. get to NBA? Former Alabama star fighting for chance on Birmingham's G-League team

Becky Hopf
The Tuscaloosa News
University of Alabama Guard John Petty Jr.

Within a matter of hours on a single night in July, John Petty Jr. went from dejection to elation.

One door closed. Another door opened.

It was the night of the 2021 NBA Draft. Petty had a background that made him a catch. He’d just finished his senior season as an All-SEC guard for Alabama basketball and held school records for 3-point shots made with 311 and twice hit the school single-game record in 3-point shots made with 10.

He started 105 games out of 131 played and accumulated 1,539 career points, a career average of 11.7.

He played at Huntsville’s J.O. Johnson High School three seasons and for Jemison his senior year. He won back-to-back Mr. Basketball titles in 2016 and 2017 and helped Johnson win the 2016 AHSAA 5A championship, averaging 19.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

His hopes were high the NBA would see his potential, but his name was never called. Teams likely were scared off by an injury to his right knee that limited him in the pre-draft combine in Chicago.

“My knee had swollen up, and I had to get it drained,” Petty said.

It worsened when he slipped at the combine.

Everything he’d worked for seemed for naught when the final name was called, and, like every previous name that night, it was not his.

And then came a call with unexpected news.

“On draft night, after everybody had their pick, my agent called and said we didn’t get a pick where we wanted but the Pelicans’ G-League has a new team, the Birmingham Squadron, and they wanted me,” Petty said. “Right away I said, ‘Birmingham? That’s close to home.’ I was in.”

John Petty Jr., Birmingham Squadron, NBA G-League, 2021-22 season

First, he was sent to New Orleans for training camp.

“I wasn’t really nervous. I was more-so anxious to get back out there,” he said. “Throughout the summer I was battling injuries. I had surgery on my (right) thumb, so I hadn’t been playing for a while, so I was anxious to get back out there and get my body back right, get my game back to the level it was and compete.”

Two days into practice in Detroit for the NBA Summer League he'd broken his shooting hand thumb. It required surgery and kept him out for weeks.

“It was at a crucial, key time. It was probably one of the reasons why I didn’t get a chance to showcase my ability.”

He returned to New Orleans for rehab.

In his first G-League game with Birmingham, he scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

“I felt good. It felt great,” Petty, 23, said. “It was real fun getting back out there.”

Playing close to home has been a treat as his family makes the drive from Huntsville to see him play.

Petty dreams of playing alongside the game’s elite.  Injuries and the hurdle of being one level away can get to him at times.

He is encouraged by witnessing his Birmingham teammates get called up to NBA teams.

“That’s real inspiring," he said. "It just shows the scouts are really watching our team, and it puts a fire inside us.”

And his former Alabama teammates, the Pelicans' Herb Jones and Kira Lewis Jr., have also supported him.

“My goal is to be on an NBA roster. I know I’m not going to be throwing crazy goals out the gate," Petty said. "I know I’m not coming in to be a superstar out the gate. I just want to come in and build a solid foundation, be a professional and do the things that help a team win.”

John Petty Jr. with NBA G-League Birmingham Squadron, 2021-22 season