NASHVILLE — Saturday afternoon was no time to discuss the future of Alabama basketball. The Crimson Tide had just lost to Kentucky in the SEC tournament semifinals, and as coach Avery Johnson put it: “It would be a disservice to the guys in that locker room that are in tears and heartbroken about this loss.”
“But at the same time, you combine a lot of the guys that are gonna return next year with that class, you may be talking about a Top-25 team ranked in the preseason,” Johnson said.
It’s impossible not to look forward. The Crimson Tide will bring back much of its current lineup in 2017-2018, and those players — Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key, Riley Norris, Donta Hall and Avery Johnson, Jr., among others — will welcome an elite freshman class that includes 5-star Mableton, Ga., point guard Collin Sexton.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was a tad sour about losing Sexton and 4-star Huntsville, Ala., shooting guard John Petty on the recruiting trail.
“We tried to get the guards they recruited, and they beat us on them,” Calipari said. “They’re really good players. The guys they have coming back — the size and the skill — I think they’re gonna be really good.”
Alabama fans should be elated after a strong tournament showing from the Tide, who will be hoping to receive a second straight NIT bid on Sunday night. Johnson’s team was excellent in wins over Mississippi State and No. 3-seeded South Carolina, the latter a surefire NCAA tournament team this season.
Saturday, the Tide built an early 10-point lead vs. Kentucky and stayed neck-and-neck until the final couple minutes.
“Those kids fought like heck,” Calipari said, “and we were lucky to get out alive.”
Ingram, a potential All-SEC tournament selection, stood out with a perfect game Thursday, and gave the Wildcats plenty of trouble on both ends of the floor during the semifinal loss. He figures to be Alabama’s leader on the floor next season.
“The thing that he does, is he’s not afraid to get it to the rim,” Calipari said. “He plays to his strengths. He’s physical. He’s not afraid. He has a little of a swag about him. The kind of guy I like to coach. And he did it today; he took the ball to 7, 8 feet and said, ‘I’m scoring this.'”
Both Calipari and Johnson mentioned that Alabama left multiple wins on the table during SEC regular season play. Cal said ‘Bama could’ve easily been a 23-win team, while Johnson pointed to the Tide’s stellar SEC road record (5-4) as an indicator of things to come.
As it stands, the 2017-2018 Alabama team should be the first Crimson Tide squad to earn an NCAA tournament bid since 2011-2012, and Sexton’s arrival might, as Johnson said, push Alabama into the preseason Top 25.
“The future’s bright for Alabama,” Johnson said. “We’ve brought some new fans to Alabama basketball, we’ve re-energized the fans that have been with us for 10, 20, 30 years. They can actually see we’re going somewhere.”
Alabama basketball: Class of 2017
- 5-star Mableton, Ga., point guard Collin Sexton (Nation’s No. 7 overall player)
- 4-star Huntsville, Ala., shooting guard John Petty (No. 30 overall)
- 4-star Pelham, Ala., power forward Alex Reese (No. 88 player)
- 3-star Moundville, Ala., shooting guard Herb Jones (No. 149 overall)
- 3-star Clinton, Miss., center Galin Smith (No. 198 overall)
All ratings and rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.