TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — 2017 was always the goal.
Alabama basketball coach Avery Johnson knew he would be behind on recruiting the 2016 class after being hired in April 2015. But Johnson set his sights on building toward the 2017 cycle.
The countless hours Johnson and his coaching staff worked paid off as the Crimson Tide hauled in the No. 2 overall recruiting class in the country and the top-rated class in school history, according to Rivals.com and Scout.com.
“This is the result of everybody pulling in the same direction,” Johnson said Friday.
Headlined by 5-stars Collin Sexton and John Petty, Johnson and his coaching staff put together a full recruiting class. The Crimson Tide essentially signed a player at every position with guard Herb Jones, forward Alex Reese and center Galin Smith joining Sexton and Petty.
Johnson thanked Alabama athletic director Bill Battle, each player’s family and even faculty members around the University that met with the players and their families when they came to campus.
Johnson made sure to thank Alabama football coach Nick Saban as well. Saban and the football staff took time to speak with prospects during visits.
“Coach Saban’s been huge,” Johnson said. “I think he’s met with four out of five of our 2017 recruits. That’s been very instrumental. He’s embraced me and my family since day one, and that’s continued.”
Johnson knows he couldn’t have done it without his coaching staff, mainly assistants Bob Simon, John Pelphrey and Antoine Pettway.
“Those guys worked endless hours to build relationships with a lot of these recruits and their families,” Johnson said. “A lot of times they may bring me in to potentially close the deal, but they’re the guys that are the first eight innings guys.”
Johnson said a lot of his initial meetings with Battle were spent talking about how Alabama could attract highly-touted prospects to Tuscaloosa.
While he had never been a college coach before, Johnson had experience on the recruiting side. His son, Avery Jr., was recruited by a lot of programs which gave him a glimpse of how the recruiting world worked. Johnson also got an inside look at how some of the programs worked when dealing with Avery Jr.’s recruitment as well as other kids he knew from the Dallas area. He visited 10 or 15 different campuses throughout the process.
Johnson said he never questioned his ability to recruit, and being at a place like Alabama certainly helped out.
“We thought as a staff if we could get kids on campus, we have a lot to sell,” Johnson said. “This is a beautiful campus. There’s not a piece of grass out of order here. We have the best landscaping department, academics, social life. Look at all of our varsity sports. If you love sports, this is the place to be.”
Johnson’s goal was to first sign the top in-state players before building out to the surrounding states. Johnson believes Alabama signed three of the top players from Alabama (Petty, Jones and Reese) as well as the top guard from Georgia (Sexton) and top big man from Mississippi (Smith).
“All of our players are 5-stars, by the way, in my mind,” Johnson said.
Sexton, a guard out of Pebblebrook (Ga.) High School, exploded on the recruiting scene last summer. He went from being outside of the top 100 to a top-10 player on most of the recruiting services.
Sexton is considered an aggressive scorer who can play both on and off the ball.
Johnson said Sexton is a “stud” with a “Kyrie Irving type game.” Johnson recalls being hired in April, and having Sexton on campus in June.
“That’s when we identified him as an elite player when I don’t think he was ranked in the top 200,” Johnson said. “But he came on our campus, and then he came to football games and tailgates. … Our relationship with him didn’t happen last night or a month ago. We’ve been building the relationship with him and his family for a long time.”
Petty won Mr. Basketball for the state of Alabama after a stellar junior season. Petty is a versatile forward who can do a little bit of everything. He committed to Alabama on Thursday night at halftime during his basketball in which he dropped 35 points.
“He capable of doing that every night,” Johnson said of Petty.
Alabama opens the regular season tonight vs. Coastal Carolina. Tipoff from Coleman Coliseum is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network+.
“This is a big day for the University of Alabama basketball,” Johnson said. “Not just with our game tonight, but with this 2017 class. Sure, wherever we’re ranked, it’s a No. 1 class in my mind.”