Alabama basketball is JD Davison's to lead, if he is up to the challenge | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

It's the little breaks in college basketball action, during stoppages for fouls or at the end of timeouts after the coach has had his say, that can often tell the leadership tale. That's when the five on the floor huddle, and if there's a true alpha in the mix, he speaks while four heads drop in attentive silence. The coach on the floor. Teams can have more than one vocal leader make important points in these moments, of course, so this isn't exact science. Social science never is. 

But too often in Alabama's basketball huddles this year, the talking-to-listening ratio looked upside down. When everyone has the answer, often nobody does. That can be a death knell in the postseason, as the Crimson Tide's first-game exits from the SEC and NCAA tournaments would attest. Certainly, the disconnected play that plagued UA more and more as the season progressed doesn't fall on JD Davison's shoulders — he was a freshman guard on a team of veteran guards. 

But that time is past. 

The 2022-23 Crimson Tide could be his team. 

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It might have to be his team, if the Tide is to perform more like it did two years ago, and less like it did this year. Davison's path into this role is about as clear as a breakaway dunk. Keon Ellis, Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford are moving on. That would leave Davison as coach Nate Oats' only experienced guard next season, and his only proven ball handler.

Forget the idea that an older player would be more suited for a leadership role. Between the transfer portal and frequency with which players turn pro early, college hoops rosters turn over in a blink. Coaches can't afford to wait for leadership to be carefully cultivated over three or four years, even if that still occasionally happens. The just-ended season showed the experience of upperclassmen alone doesn't suffice. Sophomores like Davison, as long as they have the right makeup, can command all the necessary attention. 

Of course, there are fundamental improvements for returning players that will be paramount as well. Shooting accuracy, most obviously, must be better up and down the roster. Young center Charles Bediako needs to return more sure-handed, less vulnerable to being stripped. Davison will be more effective if he can dial up a little more situational awareness, eliminate careless passes, and pull the trigger more aggressively from 3-point range. But all three of those tasks are mental adjustments that an offseason of maturity can easily bring. 

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So, too, is leadership development. 

Oats has proven a lot in three years as Alabama's coach. The question of whether or not he would recruit well has been emphatically answered in the affirmative. Could he turn the program around quickly? He's checked that box as well, having assembled back-to-back NCAA Tournament teams after Alabama's previous two coaches reached the big dance just once each over a 10-year period. His next challenge will be to develop that coach on the floor. His fourth team will need an on-court foreman as much as it will need any addition of talent. Someone who commands a presence, inspires, and elevates the play of others. Someone whose words can drop four heads in a huddle. 

And Davison is unquestionably the most obvious candidate.

Reach Chase Goodbread Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.

Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.