Alabama has its exhibition game Friday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. vs. Trevecca Nazarene, then opens the season on Friday, Nov. 33, hosting Kennesaw State.
To say that Avery Johnson is enthusiastic is an understatement. Although Johnson has given no indication he is optimistic about the final outcome of his first season as coach of the men’s basketball team, he is definitely upbeat about the direction of the program and the effort of his players.
Johnson will have the Tide in its 17th practice of the pre-season today and he said he is excited about the effort of his team. His players, he said, have “worked hard and been coachable,” even though the players have been asked to learn and retain much information.
“It is satisfying working with this team and this staff,” he said.
Although he said he does not yet have a rotation or a starting lineup to announce, when he listed the standouts he certainly indicated 6-10 junior forward Jimmie Taylor must be doing well. He said Taylor, who averaged only 5.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season, has practiced “on both ends (offense and defense) at a consistently high level. He has gotten better in all facets. We look for him to get more than 5 points a game. We are going to lean on him.”
An issue for Taylor in his first two seasons has been foul trouble, particularly early foul trouble. In practice, Alabama has had SEC officials showing Taylor what he can and cannot do. That has also been a topic of film study for Johnson and Taylor. He said Taylor has responded to the instruction and that Taylor can be expected “to cut his fouls in half.”
The big news out of practice is the fast flow pace of play, Bama working with an imaginary 20-second shot clock. Johnson said with the players going “faster more consistently that ever,” that there is an emphasis on ball security, players learned to space themselves, making good passes and good legal screens, and having good shot selection. He admitted that “turnovers have been a little high in practice.”
Part of that is youth, Johnson pointing to the team “being very young on the perimeter.” Retin Obasohan and forward Shannon Hale join Taylor as returning men with starting experience, but wing players Riley Norris and Justin Coleman are just sophomores who were mostly in back-up roles last year.
Both Hale and inside player Michael Kessens are not only returning experienced players, they are also coming back from injuries. Johnson indicated both should be ready to go for the start of the season.
A handful of newcomers are on hand and some are expected to be in the playing rotation. They include guards Dazon Ingram and Brandin Austin and forward Donta Hall, who is listed as 6-10, 205, but who Johnson said had added 20 pounds since that arrival weight. The newcomers also include guard Lawson Schaffer.
Speaking of newcomers, there are three men who transferred in to help out in practice, but will not be eligible to play until next year. They are guard Avery Johnson, Jr., guard Arthur Edwards, and wing player Nick King.
Johnson said, “The youth shows in practice and it will in games.” He said as the coach he will have to have patience.
Shot selection is a primary issue. Players, he said, need to go from “good to great,” but “not good to great to bad.” Sometimes he said it is “very difficult, very painful,” to watch.
He also pointed out that he is now living in Tuscaloosa and has no residence anywhere else, proof, he said, that he is all-in at The University of Alabama. He said that the atmosphere at Bama is perfect for a “sports junkie,” that he enjoys visiting with Tide Football Coach Nick Saban, and that he is able to sell basketball prospects on being at Alabama if he can get them on campus.
As for the Tuesday night scrimmage and what might be expected, Johnson, who was known as the Little General in his NBA playing career, said he had heard that some fans expect him “to come out riding a motorcycle and wearing a Little General costume. That’s not going to happen.”
It does, however, sound like things are going to be different with the Alabama men’s basketball program.