Avery Johnson takes over a basketball program that was suffering not so much in the won-lost columns as it was in a malaise. He promised to get things on the right track. After thanking Alabama Athletics Director Bill Battle for giving him a six-year contract, Johnson said, “It won’t take that long.”
“I wouldn’t have taken this job if we couldn’t make it to the Final Four,” said Johnson. “I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t see and have a vision of how we could get to the Final Four, and have an opportunity to win a championship. Duke University – that’s the standard for us here at The University of Alabama and our basketball program. The way they play defense and offense, the way they move the ball, that’s the standard. Nobody else is the standard, that’s the standard – Duke University. That’s why I’m here.
"I promise you, I will work morning, noon and night to get the job done," Johnson said.
He added his thanks to Battle for giving him a six-year contract, and promised, “It won’t take that long.”
Johnson had easy answers to two of the questions about his selection. One is that because he had not coached in college, he would be a weak recruiter. As he began his remarks, he said he was speaking to “every high level recruit” in the state of Alabama and that he wanted to build a fence around the state. He said that “every high school coach and every AAU coach” in the state was a priority and that he would also recruit national prospects outside the state and the junior college ranks.
Although he wouldn’t give away his specific itinerary, he said he and Assistant Coach Antoine Pettway would be on the recruiting trail in Alabama on Thursday. We had earlier announced that Johnson would visit Dazon Ingram in Theodore.
Later he said he would be making stops at various AAU events.
He also pointed out that he had been through the recruiting process in recent years as his son, Avery Jr., has just finished his freshman year as a point guard at Texas A&M.
There was also a question as to whether a basketball coach wanted to be at a “football school.”
Johnson said, “Actually, that was one of the reasons I wanted to come. I had a chance fortunately to meet Coach (Nick) Saban. I spent about 30 minutes with him prior to the press conference. I’ve been a huge fan.
“I don’t think the football program has been [utilized] in a way that it should in terms of helping basketball. Coach Saban with his personality and all of his success, that doesn’t scare me; it’s like a magnet for me.
“I’ve had my own success. I’ve gone a lot of places a lot of coaches haven’t gone before. And I have my own personality. So a guy like Coach Saban, that is one of the things that attracted me to The University of Alabama. I was going to get interviewed some other Power Five conferences that didn’t have the program like The University of Alabama, so I think it’s a huge plus.
“I’m very close to Sean Peyton; he’s one of my best friends from the New Orleans Saints football team. I’ve been involved with that football team as an UNPAID consultant, by the way, since 2006. So I’m a huge football fan. So the fans are going to see me at the games and Coach Saban said he would give me opportunities to come and sit in on some of his sessions, or stop by practice just like I did with the Saints. I was fortunate to get the New Orleans Saints their speech Super Bowl morning 2009 before we beat the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl.
“So I’m a huge football fan, and that was one of the things that attracted me to The University of Alabama.”
He added that fans would seem Avery Johnson at Alabama football games.
Although he didn’t give hints on how he might fill out his staff beyond retaining Antoine Pettway, he said he had someone in mind for his chief assistant and that he had received quite a few inquiries for the positions.
As for keeping Pettway, he said that Battle had first suggested it, that everyone he made inquires to “raved” about Pettway, and that the deal was sealed when the two met.
He said that he and former Tide Coach Anthony Grant had exchanged texts, Grant wishing Johnson well and Johnson responded with the same.
As for playing style, Johnson noted that in his long playing and coaching career in the NBA that he is a child (albeit a 50-year-old child) “of the 24-second clock. He said, “I’m used to getting a good shot in 24 seconds. I’d like to adopt that same philosophy here. I come from an environment where the (San Antonio) Spurs were about ball movement. We adopted a lot of that philosophy with the (Dallas) Mavericks.
“But if we’re going to play faster on offense, we have to play better on defense. One of the things I had to do was retransform a team that was at the bottom of the league in defense to one of the top teams in defense. I’m a big plus-minus guy.
“So we want to play faster more efficient and when you play faster you have more an opportunity to turn the ball over. So I’ve had to have good decision-makers. I was never a high-turnover guy when I played and turnovers irritate the... (short silence, then left unsaid) out of me. So that’s kind of where we’re going and that’s why it’s important for me to surround myself with the right coaching staff that understands how we want to play.”
Fans watching the recent NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament saw what Johnson wants at Alabama. “Duke University,” he said. “Let me just say this in all honesty and out of sincere respect. That’s the NBA system.”
Among those on hand were University President Dr. Judy Bonner; a few members of the Board of Trustees; former Crimson Tide coaches C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson; former players Wendell Hudson, Glenn Garrett, Johnny Dill, Eric Washington, and Ron Steele; Southeastern Conference Associate Director Mark Whitworth; Tuscaloosa Tipoff Club President Chuck Sittaston; and National Alumni Association President Jimmy Warren.