TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Retin Obasohan saw something in Nick King that he hadn’t seen in many players throughout his career at Alabama.
With King — a transfer from Memphis — serving as Alabama’s top scout team player and Obasohan being Alabama’s top performer last season, the two battled on the practice court throughout last year.
“He was one of the few guys that I’ve played in my entire five years here that wouldn’t back down,” Obasohan said Thursday of King following Alabama’s postseason banquet. “That’s what I appreciate the most about Nick. Because he had to go up against me, I would come at his neck. He’s the type of guy who’s going to come right back (at you). That’s kind of what I was looking for. That’s what’s going to help him a lot in leading this team, and playing in the SEC because you have to bring it every single day. He’s not scared to do that.”
It’s been nearly a year since King joined Alabama’s team from Memphis, where he averaged 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Due to NCAA transfer rules, King had to sit out the 2015-16 season. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
King benefited greatly from the year off in terms of improving his game. But, in his own words, it wasn’t easy by any means.
“You want my honest answer?” King said when asked about what it was like to sit out. “It was tough, it was long. I was the only one staying back (on road trips) so I had to watch the games on TV because I couldn’t be there. But I just tried to do my best to support the team through thick and thin. During practice or whenever I was with the team, I tried to do my best.”
Part of doing his best meant simulating the opponent’s best player. During practices, King mimicked the game of LSU’s Ben Simmons, Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones and Tennessee’ Kevin Punter to name a few.
That, too, brought on its own set of challenges while also enhancing King’s weaknesses. For example, Simmons is a player who can push the ball up the floor with either hand, but often passes and finishes at the rim with his right hand. That made King, a lefty, work more on his off hand. Simulating Punter, who was the focal point of Tennessee’s offense, forced King to be more aggressive offensively. Being Jones helped King improve his post moves.
“It was tough because those players take a lot of shots on their teams, and that’s not really what I do,” King said. “Everybody had to play their role, and the biggest role was on me. I didn’t want to be a selfish player, and it’s kind of hard to adjust to being somebody else.”
King missed some practice time after having surgery to remove his appendix. But when King was on the floor, teammates noticed just how impressive the 6-foot-7, 225-pound forward could be.
“His versatility. Nick’s a really good player. He challenged us on the court,” Tide forward Riley Norris said. “It was tough against the scout team with him and Avery (Johnson) Jr. They’re both going to be great additions. But Nick, he can play multiple positions. He can bring the ball up, shoot the ball. He’s going to be really key for us next year.”
Added Obasohan, “I think he looked great at practice. I’ve said it and I’ve confronted him with it, but I said ‘Man, you’re going to have to step up. I know you have experience playing and stuff like that, but the SEC is a different beast.’ He has all the tools. He has the skill, the jump shot, the ability to get to the rim, he’s tough-nose, he competes hard so I love him as a player. I’m excited to see him take the next step and compete at one of the highest levels in college basketball. I think he’s really going to help this team.”
With Obasohan and Arthur Edwards moving on, Alabama will be looking to replace a big chunk of its offense, and King could help fill part of that void.
A four-star recruit from East (Tenn.) High School, King was one of the top-rated prospects in the 2013 recruiting cycle. King was named Tennessee’s Class AAA Mr. Basketball in 2012-13 after averaging 24.4 points, 15.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 blocks per game as a senior.
During his two seasons at Memphis, King played in 62 games while averaging 5.9 points and four rebounds per game while shooting 44.8 percent from the floor. Expect those numbers to go up as he steps into a bigger role for Alabama this coming season.
“This offseason, I’m trying to get in the best shape that I can,” King said. “I’m trying to be more of a vocal leader. A leader on and off the court as well as in the classroom since I’m coming up to graduate soon. Since I’ve been through a lot in my college career, I’m trying to make sure the team stays guided, make sure we stay together and fight through anything.”