Confession time: When I first heard the name “Avery Johnson” in connection with the then-open Alabama basketball job, I responded on an internet radio show, “He’s never recruited!”
Well, that was silly. Avery Johnson can recruit. He wisely kept ace recruiter Antoine Pettway and quickly and efficiently recalled the lessons learned during the recruitment of Avery Johnson, Jr., by Texas A&M and others. His third class was of the Top 10 variety. Oh, Johnson can recruit. He’s actually quite good at it, and parents and players alike listen when you have both an NBA title as a player and an NBA Coach Of The Year Award both on your resume. It helps that he’s young at heart, too.
Speaking of that consensus Top 10 class, word is they’ve been impressive since arriving on campus last month. In a recent pickup game, we hear that European professional player and former Tide star Retin Obasohan didn’t fare too well guarding Collin Sexton. John Petty and Herb Jones are also said to be looking comfortable at the next level. The back court of Sexton and Petty will be fun to watch. And if that happens, it could mean more time than ever at small forward for Dazon Ingram. The redshirt sophomore is already a very accomplished rebounder, and his outside shot was coming on near the end of last season. He can drive the baseline, too. Ingram will still see lots of time at guard, but he has the skills to play the one, two and three spots in Johnson’s offense. Don’t be surprised if his move to small forward at times means more time at what is now called the “stretch four” spot for Braxton Key, himself a staunch rebounder as well.
He’s not a true freshman, but redshirt sophomore/Ohio State transfer Daniel Giddens has also looked good this summer. Those who read his freshman stats and watched tape of his time in Columbus mumbled that the 6-11 Giddens was little more than another Jimmie Taylor. Well, hard work with Associate Head Coach John Pelphrey has changed that, if it were ever true. Johnson mentioned recently on the SEC Summer Men’s Basketball Conference Call that Giddens is working on extending his game out to 14-15 feet. Scrimmage observers call him one of the most gifted big men to come through the Tide program in years, and an excellent high post passer. Yes, Giddens can block shots and rebound, but he has a low post game, too. He will challenge Donta Hall for the starting center spot and perhaps overtake him by January. Either way, Johnson can play two centers, sometimes at the same time against the likes of tall timber teams like Kentucky, and not miss a beat.
Johnson and staff have been busy hosting 2018 prospects and watching them play in AAU tourneys this summer. Best guess at a fall signing class: 6-2 guard Jared Butler of Reserve, La.; 6-8 wing Khavon Moore of Macon, Ga.; and 6-9 post Javian Fleming of Canton, Miss.
As talented as this UA team is on paper, it’s playing perhaps the toughest schedule in school history. Vanderbilt showed the world last year that if you play enough tough games and still produce a record above .500, you have a shot to get in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It would appear Johnson took note. Bama will play perennial powers like Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, Memphis, and Minnesota out of conference, while Kentucky, Florida, Texas A&M and a trio of improved Tigers (LSU, Auburn and very talented Missouri) awaits the Tide in conference play. Suffice it to say that Strength of Schedule will not be an issue for the 2017-18 Crimson Tide. And, frankly, if the team says free of major injuries, RPI should also be its friend come Selection Sunday.