Derrick McKey On Avery Johnson The Player

Avery Johnson had an inauspicious entrance into the NBA. Although he set an all-time NCAA record averaging 13.3 assists per game, not a single pro team ventured to risk a draft choice on the undersized 5-10 1988 Southern University graduate. Third round selection Corey Gaines of Loyola Marymount was the favorite to secure a roster spot as a point guard for the Seattle Supersonics.

Former Alabama legend and All-America, Derrick McKey (1984-87), was present to witness the competition between the two.

McKey, the 1987 first round choice, ninth overall, was a participant in the training camp along with free agent hopeful Avery Johnson.

“Most people don’t know the path he took to get to where he is,” said McKey. “No one knew about Avery. He basically came in and beat out Corey -- who was a pretty good player coming from the fast break offensive system at LMU. It was a battle. They ended up cutting Corey and kept Avery.

“Avery was a little more versatile with his game and could see the court better to get people shots.”

Seattle was seeking to transition combo backcourt player Nate McMillan to his natural position of shooting guard.

“It says a lot about Avery and his intestinal fortitude to come in, work hard and defeat the odds that most people don’t have to go through,” McKey said.

McKey feels the testimony of Johnson persevering to earn an NBA contract is an invaluable lesson the newly appointed head coach of Alabama can convey to players.

“He has been through the fire and behind the eight ball just to get into the league,” McKey said. “Bernie (Bickerstaff, Supersonics head coach) placed a lot of pressure on his point guards to deliver the ball to the scorers.”

McKey takes note that Johnson possesses an infectious personality. “Anybody who meets Avery remembers the positive vibes,” McKey said, “You speak to him for a few minutes and it seems like you’ve known him for years.” Strong willed and exuding confidence, the former Southwestern Athletic Conference star exhibited a voracious appetite for learning. “On-and-off the court, he wasn’t afraid to ask questions about anything.”

McKey believes Johnson’s journey to survive and endure the rigors of a 16-year NBA career has prepared him to be a successful coach. McKey said, “Most of the good point guards are leaders. He will come in and give 100 per cent. I think he will be able to relate to the kids. Obviously has a lot of knowledge about basketball and what it takes to win. He will also listen to what these kids have to say on what is most comfortable for them as far as how they want to play and be coached. He will be firm and hold people accountable. That is what you want because he is going to be held accountable too.”

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