SEC Summer Basketball Notebook: Experience meets talent wave at Alabama

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

Is Alabama poised for a big rise in the SEC and even on the national college basketball scene?

That remains to be determined, but it's undeniable that, on paper, the 2017-18 version of the Tide has some intriguing parts.

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It's often been said that college basketball is a guard's game. The extent to which that statement is true may be up for debate, but there's no questioning the general wisdom. Great guards can take you a long way, especially in March.

And that's why Avery Johnson's third Alabama team is turning a lot of heads even this far out from the start of the season. Alabama pulled off a recruiting coup this year, landing signatures for a pair of five-star guards from the South in John Petty and Collin Sexton.

It's almost easy to forget that their other incoming players (center Gallin Smith and four-star prospects Herb Jones and Alex Reese) would be, under normal circumstances, a better-than-average SEC class.

Petty is a dynamic 6-foot-5 scoring/shooting threat who some feel was undervalued, even as he finished the recruiting process as a five-star recruit, while Sexton was ranked the No. 7 player in the 2017 class by Rivals.com and could make an enormous impact as one of the nation's better young point guards.

But with any youth movement, there are challenges.

"We have to incorporate six new players to our team. Five freshmen and one redshirt (freshman), Danny Giddens," Johnson said. "So it's been pretty exciting in terms of trying to get all of those guys blended together and on the same page. So overall the team is healthy."

Giddens was formerly a heralded big man recruit who played a season at Ohio State before transferring to Tuscaloosa and sitting out a year. He'll be expected to help bolster the Tide's frontcourt. Alabama will benefit from another transfer, Tevin Mack, who will arrive from Texas for the second summer session, but the wing will have to sit out the 2017-18 season.

The roster change in Tuscaloosa extends to the coaching staff. On this week's SEC teleconference, Johnson made special mention of new assistant Yasir Rosemond, who was most recently on Mark Fox's staff at Georgia and cut his teeth coaching at Oregon.

"We feel we're all on the same page," Johnson said of those in his program. "This is our third year now with this program and we feel it's healthy and we're all in a good state of mind in terms of what we've built here over the first two years. Hopefully we'll be ready to take that next step."

While the new backcourt will be the biggest topic whenever Alabama basketball is discussed, Giddens will have a big say in how much success the team has.

"Daniel, he's been doing great," Johnson said this week. "And he's worked hard. He went through a competitive redshirt program and he's gotten stronger and he's expanded his game a little bit. Obviously we need him to do a lot of what Bola (Olaniyan) did for us in terms of rebounding the basketball on both ends of the floor. We think he'll be a better offensive player inside (and will) be able to finish a little bit more. But also being able to take his game out to maybe 14 or 15 feet and playing off the bounce a little bit and maybe initiating some offense from around the free throw area because he's a big guy who can pass the ball."

Let's not forget another key fact: Alabama doesn't just bring in a lot of new talent. They do bring in loads of talent, but they also return plenty of key parts as well.

In Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key and Riley Norris, Alabama returns a trio that combined for roughly 30 points per game; a solid core under most any circumstances. Throw in big contributors Avery Johnson Jr., and Donta Hall, and the Tide should be not only talented, but deep and experienced.

This Alabama team will head off to Canada in August, for one exhibition game in Montreal and two in Ottawa. Johnson hopes that will be a positive experience that gives him, and his players, a better idea of what to expect and an understanding of what they're working with. Johnson cited the increased practice time as especially important.

"So those practices are going to be very important for us to try to look at different combinations," he said. "Do we want to play big? Do we want to play small? Who's the primary ball handler with a certain group? Do we want to have multiple ball handlers?"

Those are the kinds of questions that will determine Alabama's success. The talent is there, but questions still have to be answered; wrinkles have to be ironed out.

Johnson said the SEC's coaches are trying to put the league in a position to land upwards of seven teams in the NCAA tournament.

In any scenario where that happens in 2017-18, Alabama would almost certainly need to be one of those teams.

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