TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s hard to believe that the Collin Sexton era at the University of Alabama is already in the final stretch.
It’s been a fast 24 games that he’s played for the Crimson Tide, plus the exhibitions in Canada back in August. All that’s left are four Southeastern Conference games, including Wednesday’s rivalry showdown at No. 12 Auburn (8:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network), and then there are no guarantees.
A loss after the SEC Tournament in St. Louis, where Alabama is only guaranteed one game, and it’s over. Sexton will almost certainly be a first-round selection in the NBA Draft when college basketball fans were just beginning to appreciate how different a player he really is — both on and off the court.
For example, Sexton’s a one-and-done talent who still had a perfect 4.0 GPA during his first semester.
Despite being an extremely high-profile player, he’s turned down interview requests from just about every national writer and broadcaster you can think of. Sexton’s only done the same sessions as his teammates because he doesn’t want the potential distraction.
He doesn’t even do social media. Sexton considers it a waste of time.
Despite being just 19, he’s like the anti-millennial. Sexton bucks trends and makes no excuses for doing so.
“I like players like him that have that old-school mentality,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said. “They want to just have that passion and drive, and they want to work on their games. Here’s a kid, man, we’ve got to basically turn the lights out in the gym sometimes and say, ‘Go back to the dorm. Just go and be a student for at least an hour a day.’ But he wants to live in the gym.
“He’s driven. He’s passionate. He’s got big dreams and big goals.”
Of course, Sexton has been pretty good as well despite playing with an abdominal injury that sidelined him for two games in mid-January.
The freshman point guard leads Alabama in scoring and is third in the league, averaging 18.1 points per game. Sexton also tops the Crimson Tide in assists (3.5), field goals made (136) and field goals attempted (314), and he recently made the John R. Wooden Award Late Season Top-20 list for player of the year.
Playing on an extremely young team, there’s been some inconsistency and disappointing losses, but the Crimson Tide are 5-1 against ranked opposition and the lone loss was a doozy against then-No. 14 Minnesota on Nov. 25 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Alabama played the final 10:41, when it trailed 67-56, with just three players due to injuries and the entire bench being ejected.
It only lost 89-84 as Sexton became the first Crimson Tide player to score 40 in a game since Reggie King’s 43 points against Virginia in 1978.
This Collin Sexton guy is pretty good pic.twitter.com/YvQhT7dQbh
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 11, 2018
“I just play to a standard,” Sexton said. “Like I know when I’m out there, I want to play to a certain standard, I don’t feel like there’s pressure.”
So what motivates him?
“Family,” Sexton answered. “Waking up each and every day and going to work, and work hard.”
That’s how he went from being an unknown recruit to a consensus 5-star prospect. It’s led to things like being named the 2017 Class 7A Player of the Year and first-team All-State by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at Pebblebrook High School in Mableton, Ga.
Sexton was also named to Team USA for the FIBA U17 World Championships in Spain where he landed MVP honors, and a McDonald’s All-American, where during the all-star weekend won the high-profile dunk contest.
Of course, none of that meant anything at Alabama, where he showed up on the skinny side. Sexton, now listed as 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, noted that the biggest surprise for him at the collegiate level was how much more physical the game was, not the speed. He was already used to playing fast.
“We really had to work on his body when he first arrived on campus, to give him the kind of strength that he’s going to need to withstand some of the contact — especially for a guy who likes to drive and try to get a free throw so much, the way he can break down defenses,” Johnson said. “We tried to address that first.”
The other top priority was to get Sexton in the film room and become more of a student of the game. No one in the basketball world may understand how important that is more than his coach.
Johnson played his final two collegiate seasons at Southern University, leading the NCAA in assists during both of them. After not being selected in the 1988 NBA Draft, he started his professional career playing with the Palm Beach Stingrays of the United States Basketball League.
At 5-foot-11, he was a living version of “one of these things is not like the other” in NBA locker rooms. Yet, the man dubbed “The Little General” made it to the NBA, won a title with the San Antonio Spurs and played 16 years in the league.
He knows a few things about where hard work can take someone, and his imprint on Sexton has been noticeable.
“He’s a spark of energy,” sophomore forward Braxton Key said about Sexton’s recent play. “He’s leading the team well. He’s been a great floor general for us, taking care of the ball a lot better, taking smarter shots. So, he’s been doing a great job of getting everybody involved.”
Coming in, Sexton said he wanted to lead Alabama to an SEC championship and an NCAA Tournament bid. He’s on pace for the latter, and who knows what might happen in St. Louis, especially if Alabama can secure a top-four seed. This year’s tournament looks like it could be wide open.
— SEC Country Alabama (@SECCountryBama) February 20, 2018
Going out, though, won’t be easy to watch because he’ll definitely be leaving Crimson Tide fans wanting more. Barring an injury, he has a minimum of six games remaining in crimson and white, including his final two at Coleman Coliseum against Arkansas on Saturday and Florida on Tuesday.
Maybe he’ll shoot the lights out.