'Doing whatever it took': Alabama basketball's Keith Askins enters Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

BIRMINGHAM — Wimp Sanderson’s assistant coaches weren’t going to be available to make curfew checks for the Alabama basketball team one night, so the former Crimson Tide coach put two players in charge.

Keith Askins and Michael Ansley.

After practice, Sanderson hollered to let the team know.

The next morning, the Crimson Tide walked in for a morning shootaround. Sanderson asked Askins if anybody was late, expecting a no. Askins, however, replied with a “yes sir.” Someone was 30 minutes late.

Ansley.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, you can’t put me in this kind of position,'” Askins said. “My coach asked me to do something and I’m going to do it.”

Reliable. On and off the hardwood.

His dependability and defensive play are two of the main ingredients, in addition to developing into a solid 3-point shooter, that made Askins successful at Alabama and beyond. After playing for the Crimson Tide from 1986-90, he signed with the Miami Heat as an undrafted free agent. Askins went on to play nine seasons in Miami before retiring in 1999 and immediately joining the Heat’s coaching staff for 14 years. Then, he became Miami’s director of college and pro scouting, his current role.

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And now, the Athens, Alabama, native is headed into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. The class of 2022, which includes Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy, is set to be honored Saturday.

“Any other time, a kid would have said, ‘Oh no coach, nobody was late,’” Sanderson said. “That’s the kind of kid he was.”

It goes back to when Askins was a young kid. His school bus driver, an older man, would tell everyone to be quiet. And whenever the bus driver wanted to find out who was breaking the silence rule, he asked Askins.

The bus driver had a leather strap he hung over a window to spank kids who didn’t listen.

“He told me, ‘If you don’t tell me and I find out that somebody was talking, I’m going to get you,’” Askins recalled.

So Askins had an early lesson in the meaning of consequences.

“If somebody asks me to do something, I’m going to do it,” Askins repeated.

His coaches, specifically, asked him to fill a variety of roles defensively. They could have him guard most positions.

“If we needed to shut somebody down, we felt like he was the guy to do it,” Sanderson said.

Askins was serving that role for Alabama about 30 years prior to Herb Jones, the 2021 SEC player of the year/defensive player of the year.

Derrick McKey, another former SEC player of the year from Alabama in 1987, was a teammate of Askins before McKey went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA.

He’s seen both Askins and Jones play and sees similarities between the two small-town Alabama guys. Askins, who evaluates plenty of basketball players, also said it’s a good comparison.

“I think both were definitely more defensive-minded players, doing whatever it took to be on the floor and help the team,” McKey said. “That’s what they brought to the table: their defensive ability. Everybody can’t be a shooter or rebounder, and everybody doesn’t want to give that effort playing defense. But you know you’re going to get that out of those two guys: the good defense and the hustle plays. They are kind of different in how they go about it, but still, they’re playing defense at a high level.”

Plus, they’re in vastly different parts of their careers. Jones just wrapped up a strong rookie season in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans. A ways down the road and has had a successful career, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame could be in his future. But now, it is Askins’ present.

“To be a part of this, it’s incredible,” Askins said Friday, sitting in the lobby of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s truly a surprising honor and one I’m going to take the rest of my life.”

Askins earned it after a career that included three SEC Tournament championships, two Sweet 16 appearances and three NBA championships as an assistant coach.

“He’s very reliable, he’s very good,” Sanderson said, “and it’s a real honor for me to see him go into the hall of fame.”

Nick Kelly covers Alabama football and men's basketball for The Tuscaloosa News, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at nkelly@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly