NASHVILLE – Both are veterans, but only one has experience at Alabama. The other has Southeastern Conference experience at another school, though. Riley Norris and Corban Collins both know what it takes to win in this league, and both think the 2016-17 Alabama Crimson Tide men’s basketball team will be improved from last year’s 18-15 mark. The reason? Players, and more of them. That was the word Wednesday at SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day.
Let’s start with rebounding machine Bola Olaniyan, a fifth-year transfer who grabbed nearly nine boards per game at Southern Illinois last season.
“Bola’s a really big guy and a really big impact on the glass,” said junior forward Riley Norris, who averaged 5.3 rebounds to lead the Tide last year. “Being a fifth-year senior, he’s got a lot of experience, so he knows how to get position and get rebounds. He makes it very tough when you’re on the other end trying to get rebounds on him. Bola’s a really great rebounder, and we apply everyday drills for offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, and free throw rebounding. Every day, we do drills for rebounding so we won’t forget that’s something that we have to improve on to be successful.
“Jimmie (Taylor) and Donta (Hall) are guys that spent the off season in the weight room getting bigger and stronger, and are jumping higher, so having them more active this year is good, and they have been showing a lot of progression at rebounding, so they’re going to help us a lot this year.”
Corban Collins said Tide fans will see more offense from Taylor this year than in years past. “We’re looking for a lot out of Jimmie,” he said, “with him being another senior leader on our team. We’re looking forward to getting the ball down there (in the post), and we’re expecting something. He’s been producing for us (in practice), definitely. (Taylor’s) been doing a great job this summer and preseason. He’s been working really hard, putting extra time in in the gym, those type of things, and being the captain of our team, and a leader, we’re looking for a lot out of him this year.”
Donta Hall, who will likely back up Taylor at center, is still a work in progress, but getting better. Collins said the reason is Hall’s “overall confidence. He was able to develop more going through the year last year, and he had a great summer he carried over to the preseason. He’s developing more and more as an offensive threat, and more and more as a piece of our team. He’s really doing a lot of great things. When you go down low against him, there’s a good chance the ball’s coming back out the other way. He’s doing a great job.”
Bama fans may come to enjoy watching junior college transfer Armond Davis, who is not afraid to launch from anywhere, ala former Tider and NBA player James Robinson. “Armond brings range,” Norris said with a smile. “Armond is a good player who can really shoot the ball. He’s a high level shooter who was recruited highly out of the College of Idaho. He’s going to be able to stretch the zones, space the floor, and he’s going to be really good for us.”
That’s how Collins sees it too about Davis and his range. “That guy, he definitely has the ability to shoot the ball, so crossing half court, you’ve got to get on him, because you never know. It could be going up, and there’s a good chance if it’s going up it’s going in.”
Freshman Braxton Key has also caught Norris’ eye. “Braxton’s really mature for his age,” Norris noted. “He knows the game really well, and has a really good feel for it. He can play multiple positions, and that really helps us out He can play two (off guard), three (small forward), and four (power forward). If you can play three different positions, you can be on the court a lot, and it brings more overall depth to our team.”
Norris said there is versatility in the back court, too. “Dazon (Ingram) may be running two and Corbin (Collins) running one (point guard) some nights, it just depends on what Coach (Avery) Johnson is thinking. He likes guys that can play multiple positions. You could see both of them on the court at one time.”
Collins agreed. “Both of us, (he and Ingram) are able to play off each other really well,” he said. “We feel good about any guard combination: me and Dazon, me and Armond, me and Avery Jr., Dazon/Armond, Dazon/Avery Jr., whoever is the combination, we feel like it can do a really good job for us.
“Dazon is hungry after sitting out last year. He’s competing, and he wants to lead the team.”
Then there is junior transfer Nick King, late of Memphis, who sat out last year. “Nick has a high IQ, and he knows how to play the game of basketball,” Norris said. “He’s a lot like Braxton, and King can really shoot it. Nick’s really gifted offensively, and he has a lot of moves he can go to. He can play inside and outside. With Armond (Davis) and Braxton (Key), 3-point shooting is going to help us open more gaps, more driving lanes, and overall, it’s going to help our efficiency.”
It would have been remiss not to ask each Tide Media Days representative to critique the other’s game and what he brings to the team. On Collins, Norris said, “Corban’s a really good player, and he’s a really good vocal leader. His leadership, being a fifth-year guy, is really important to us. Having good leadership right now will help us down the stretch when it gets tough. Corbin can play defense. He plays really hard, and has a grit about him. Corbin does everything really well.”
Of Norris, Collins gushed, “Riley is a great guy. Just a hard-nosed guy, who wears his hard hat every day. He’s going to dive on the floor for those loose balls, and he’s going to get the rebound that you need to get a (defensive) stop. He’s just a ‘glue’ guy. He’s a guy that you need to win games, because he’s going to do everything in his power to help us win.”
Norris had good news for the Tide hoops faithful about senior forward Shannon Hale: “Shannon is back healthy now, and back practicing (after off-season foot surgery). I think he and Jimmie (Taylor) both know it’s their last year. It’s their last go-round, so every day in practice they end up working hard, and I think they understand that, and they grasp that concept that it’s their last time to play (college ball). Not only playing-wise, but they’re becoming good leaders too, so I think that’s what we need: leadership, because of all the younger guys that haven’t been through this before, and hopefully, that’s what this season shows.”
Collins is just now getting to play with Hale due to the injury, but he’s impressed, too. “It’s his last year, so he has that hunger, and that fire in his eyes,” said Collins. “Each and every day, (Hale’s) trying to get better.
“He’s taking coaching really well. The things that Coach Johnson and the staff are telling him to do, (Hale’s) really trying to implement, each and every day, so he’s working hard, he’s playing defense, he’s rebounding. He’s doing those things that people said (in the past) that he really didn’t do. He’s doing those things so that he can make that difference, and help us take it to the next level.”