TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Did you see Collin Sexton?
He’s one of the biggest topics of discussion around the University of Alabama this week along with there being a team in the Final Four that the Crimson Tide knocked off twice during the final stretch of the 2016-17 season.
That’s right, Crimson Tide men’s basketball is widely being talked about, even with the football team going through spring practices.
“I was in the press box for the Alabama-Auburn baseball game on Tuesday night and the conversation was [about] men’s basketball,” Alabama announcer Chris Stewart said. “To be asked, and talk about basketball in March, when your team has not played a game in two, two-and-a-half weeks, is a really good thing.
“Everyone who is an Alabama fan is disappointed that the season ended, and ended with a first-round loss in the NIT, but if you’ve been following the program and you know what’s coming back, combined with what’s coming in, I don’t know how you can’t be excited.”
For Stewart, who has done basketball play-by-play of Crimson Tide radio broadcasts since the 2002-03 season, the only one that compare in terms of offseason buzz was that first one.
Alabama was coming off having won the regular-season SEC title. Mark Gottfried had been named the league’s Coach of the Year, guard Mo Williams was the Freshman of the Year and center/forward Erwin Dudley the Player of the Year. The roster had nearly everyone back, and was adding forward Kennedy Winston.
Alabama ranked eighth in the preseason AP Top 25 and then opened with a win against No. 3 Oklahoma in Madison Square Garden, 68-62 (Note: The undercard game that night was Syracuse, with a freshman named Carmelo Anthony, and Memphis under John Calipari).
But there are good reasons for the growing hype, including Sexton’s performance surrounding the McDonald’s All American Game. He began by winning the dunk contest.
With that alone, Alabama fans had a new appreciation for what Avery Johnson had claimed about Sexton on signing day.
“He’s a stud,” the coach said. “He has that Kyrie Irving type of a game, 6-1, 6-2, good body, can do it all. Can shoot the 3. He has a knack for getting to the free-throw line, which I like.
“He doesn’t miss his free throws, and he’s very competitive.”
For an encore during the all-star game, Sexton showed those traits and some uncharacteristic ones during a few spectacular plays while being credited with 8 points, 7 assists, 4 steals and 1 rebound.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2017
Any basketball fan who didn’t previously know of Sexton, who was recruited by Johnson before most programs figured out how good he was, certainly does now. Consequently, when the SEC is described as being a rising conference, he’s one of the reasons why.
“I feel like everyone’s sleeping on the SEC,” Sexton told SEC Country’s Joe Mussatto. “People just don’t mention the SEC that much in recruiting, which is really good. It’s a really good conference. I feel like we’re going to shock people at Alabama while playing against a lot of great teams like Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Florida. Those are really good teams.
“I feel like next year is going to be a challenge in how we do in practice, and we compete against ourselves in practice, to compete with the best of them.”
But it’s not like coach Avery Johnson is just adding one star recruit to a team that’s returning most of its key players.
All five additions to the class — with guards Herb Jones and John Petty, and forwards Alex Reese and Galen Smith joining Sexton — were rated highly by recruiting services. On signing day, the group was tabbed No. 2 in the nation by Scout and Rivals, and third by 247Sports.
Those rankings continue to be tweaked as the various rosters continue to see movement, but regardless, Alabama’s class is being hailed as maybe being the best in program history. Moreover, forward/center Daniel Giddens will be active after transferring last year from Ohio State.
“The biggest thing is that everyone he’s bringing in, we’re pretty much sleepers,” Sexton also told Mussatto. “Everyone slept on us and we have a point to prove next season. We’re going to go out and do our best.”
So yes, it’s good time to be an Alabama basketball fan, and Johnson is doing everything he can to build on the momentum. He’s gone from saying “It’s a No. 1 class in my mind,” and how pleased he was to land the top three in-state players on signing day, to referring to the Crimson Tide as being a potential preseason Top 25 team before leaving the SEC Tournament.
“I don’t know if I can put that into words, but it’s not just one player,” Stewart said. “When you think about John Petty and the other guys, they each fit a need.”
But did you see Collin Sexton?
Stewart can’t wait to, in crimson and white at Coleman Coliseum.
“I think I’m going to have to probably spend more time working on the vocabulary, just based on the few minutes I saw of the McDonald’s All American Game,” he said.