Can Avery Johnson Deliver On Promise?

Avery Johnson received an overwhelming ovation from interested Alabama basketball fans last week at an energetic introductory speech that included an appeal to the talent historically responsible for the success of the program. He spoke directly to those elite level players from Huntsville to Birmingham to Montgomery to Mobile and all points in between and within the Yellowhammer State borders.

They are the priority to restore and rejuvenate Alabama basketball. Avery Johnson mentioned a figurative fence to dissuade potential prospects from defecting. Although the gauntlet has been thrown down by the new coach of the Crimson Tide, prominent powers are accustomed to plundering and cherry-picking from every state in the union. Although stirring to the faithful starving for bold leadership, words from a lectern are not deterrents to Final Four fiefdoms. An interesting scenario is set up to be the first test for the Johnson tenure. The exam is one of significant consequence considering the prospect in question.

Mr. Alabama Basketball and former Bama commitment, 6-5 guard Dazon Ingram of Theodore High School, is listening to flirtations from none other than the Blue Blood team of the SEC, Kentucky. Wildcats Coach John Calipari called on Saturday morning, the last weekend before the dead recruiting period (April 13-16). Ingram originally scheduled to announce his college choice on Monday but tweeted out Saturday evening he is delaying the decision. The NCAA Division I men’s basketball signing period began today and continues until May 20. Ingram has said he will announce and sign at noon Friday.

Ten schools are among the finalists on Ingram’s list with three offering a scholarship – Alabama, Houston and Wichita State. The other seven are Arkansas, Connecticut, Memphis, North Carolina State, Southern Cal, Tennessee and Xavier. Kentucky could be the 11th and most alluring of the suitors.

Saber rattling from the podium requires delivering on the promise. Obtaining the signature of Alabama’s best on a National Letter of Intent in spite of an 11th hour overture from Calipari would reverberate around the nation – the borders of Alabama are closed.

Winning the press conference is soothing to skeptical members of the fan base, alumni, students, and media members. Winning during the recruiting period is a tangible to celebrate all summer long and beyond. Johnson expressed a bravado rarely displayed by any head coach ever to lead a Crimson Tide program. He has an NBA Championship ring as a player and achievement as Coach Of The Year in the league to encourage any doubters to believe. If Kentucky does in fact extend a scholarship offer to Ingram, Johnson has a rare opportunity to nip the recent interstate raiding of “blue chip” players in the bud.

Moses and devoted followers wandered the desert for 40 years. Alabama has experienced moments of rapture in the NCAA Tournament, but the ecstasy of a Final Four berth has been elusive. Closest to realistically reaching the basketball bonanza was the 1975-76 team, not the 1982 “Sweet Sixteen” group or the “Elite Eight” 2004 squad.

That 1976 team of Coach C.M. Newton suffered a heartbreaking 74-69 loss to the eventual NCAA Champion and last undefeated Division I men’s team, Indiana (32-0). The starting five, all natives of Alabama, were led by dominating All-America center Leon Douglas along with defensive clamping guards Anthony Murray and T.R. Dunn, dependable forward Rickey Brown, and a future front court All-America, Reggie “Mule” King.

They gave the state a glimpse of the potential present in the region to assemble a unit capable of seriously contending for an NCAA Championship on the hardwood. Tears were shed after the near miss “Sweet Sixteen” defeat against the Hoosiers in Baton Rouge.

One year shy of the 40th anniversary of the 1975-76 team, can Avery Johnson amass the talent to lead the program to the promise land? He was a terrific point guard capable of delivering the rock. Can he be the Moses of Alabama basketball?

“We are taking the program places it has never been before,” said the 20th head men’s basketball coach in Tide history at the introductory press conference. “I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t see and have a vision how we could get to the Final Four.”

Recruiting is the lifeblood of all championship teams. Former Alabama men’s head basketball coach Winfrey “Wimp” Sanderson once said, “The Kentucky Derby was never won by a jackass.” Point taken, but Kentucky basketball games have been won with top level talent exported from Alabama.

Avery Johnson can live up to the promise of his scintillating sermon by delivering Dazon Ingram to the throng of 15,000 plus Crimson Tide fans waiting to cheer the coveted guard in Coleman Coliseum.


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