TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There is work to be done, but Alabama basketball coach Avery Johnson is confident he has the tools returning next season to make the necessary improvements.
Following a disappointing 71-64 defeat to Richmond in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday night, Johnson will now turn his attention to fixing some of the flaws that saw the Crimson Tide finish with a frustrating 19-15 record this season. While Alabama’s record is just one win better than it was in Johnson’s first season in charge last year, the head coach believes his team has made several improvements. However, there are still plenty of areas he will be looking to work on this offseason.
Pointing out that Alabama could have easily seen seven or eight losses go the other way, Johnson wasted no time listing those deficiencies Tuesday night. The head coach started with little things like catching the ball with two hands and getting on the right pivot foot before going up for a jump hook. He later mentioned a need for better spacing on the court and more clock awareness late in games.
“I can go over about 15 different examples,” Johnson said. “Now that we saw it, hopefully, those guys who have been in the NIT for two years in a row that are hoping to go to the NCAA Tournament will listen a lot closer, and hopefully graduate from some of the mistakes we made during the regular season, so when we’re in season next year it won’t take us until the SEC Tournament to graduate.”
Alabama returns its top three scorers in Braxton Key (12 points per game), Dazon Ingram (10.6 ppg.) and Riley Norris (9 ppg.). The Tide also brings back key players off the bench such as forward Donta Hall and guards Avery Johnson Jr. and Ar’Mond Davis. However, what really has Alabama fans excited is the addition of the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class.
The class, Alabama’s best-ever recruiting haul, includes the nation’s No. 7 overall player in Collin Sexton as well as Alabama’s Mr. Basketball, John Petty, the nation’s No. 28 overall player. Other additions will be four-stars Alex Reese (6-9, forward) and Herb Jones (6-7, guard) as well as three-star Galin Smith (6-9, center).
“The guys that are returning, they got to get better,” Johnson said. “And the guys that are coming in, they got to come in and give us a huge boost in some of the areas that we are weak.”
Johnson said he understands that there will still be growing pains next season, as his incoming players get acclimated to the next level. However, he said he doesn’t plan to baby his freshman upon their arrival.
“Are those kids young? Yes. But they come in and they’re ready to go from Day 1,” Johnson said. “... Let’s just take Kentucky for example. There’s no benching De’ Aaron Fox until the 25th game of the season because it takes him that long to get going. They’re ready to go. We’ve tried to recruit in a way that the players that are returning next year, they’re going to have some experience, but the guys that are coming in are ready to go. Maybe not all five, but hopefully two, hopefully three.”
Restating his disappointment in Tuesday’s loss, Johnson said he’s still encouraged by the direction the program is headed. The head coach noted his team’s success on the road during SEC play as a sign of improvement, while stating in order to truly be an elite team, his players must work to build a better home-court advantage inside Coleman Coliseum.
“We’ve got to figure that out,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t have anything to do with the building or our fans, that’s all on us. Our players just have to have more confidence and more swagger and more pride in defending their home court...The really, really, really good players, there’s an edge about them. There’s a confidence and a swagger, and we got to get a lot more of that for us to move to the next level.”
Johnson believes his players will reach that level and said he feels the team is still “right on schedule” heading into next year. Due to the amount of talent the Tide will have on its roster, that schedule now includes the expectation of a NCAA Tournament berth .
That doesn’t faze Johnson. In fact, he believes it’s just the first step.
“We want to go somewhere,” Johnson said. “I like the success our football team has had. I like their swagger, I like their confidence. I like the expectation of winning when I walk into the football stadium. We’re not there yet. But we’re chasing greatness. We’re not just chasing a NCAA Tournament berth.”