NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. – Alabama coach Avery Johnson should have a chat with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo while he’s here at Peach Jam this weekend. Johnson is trying to do what Izzo did last year: fend off John Calipari for a top in-state recruit that Kentucky’s coach wants.
Izzo and his staff shadowed 5-star forward Miles Bridges on the AAU circuit last summer, making sure he never had trouble finding them on the sideline at a game. That and a successful stay-home-and-win sales pitch paid off, as the Spartans signed Bridges despite intense interest from Calipari.
Now Johnson is doing the same for 5-star shooting guard and Huntsville, Ala., native John Petty. Every time Petty plays, Johnson (and usually at least one assistant) is front and center. The Wildcats countered Saturday with Calipari and two staffers on the baseline as Petty and his team advanced to the Peach Jam semifinals.
“They’re working pretty hard,” Petty said of Kentucky. “Alabama offered me first, but that’s when coach – what’s his name? – coach (Anthony) Grant was there. Then Kentucky offered and Coach Avery came in and he really had to catch up.”
Unlike Izzo, who has led Michigan State to seven Final Fours and a national championship, Johnson doesn’t have a rich Crimson Tide tradition to sell. He does have impressive NBA credentials: a title as a player and later a Coach of the Year award.
“I just like that he’s been to the next level,” Petty said. “He knows what he’s talking about.”
But then there’s Calipari, who offers the best of both worlds. He’s led three different programs to a Final Four, won the 2012 national championship and has had 28 players picked in the NBA Draft in seven years as Kentucky’s coach.
This is what Johnson is up against, and why he’s trying to defeat Calipari with sweat equity.
“It’s tough, and it’s just the nature of the beast. It’s what every school who is not a blueblood has to deal with,” 247Sports recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer said. “I think Avery and his staff are doing everything they can to try to keep Petty in state, but the truth of the matter is it might not be enough.”
Petty, a 6-foot-5 slasher who is ranked the 28th-best prospect in the Class of 2017 by 247, Scout.com and Rivals.com, was impressed by the way Kentucky prioritized him early and has not relented. He hears from the Cats’ staff “almost every day,” even this week with 13 other targets to track at Peach Jam.
“It kind of set them out far,” Petty said, “because when I was young, Kentucky was my favorite basketball team – watching Anthony Davis, John Wall. It used to be my favorite team, so when they gave me the offer, I was very excited.”
That’s why Meyer thinks UK, which saw Petty throw down a two-hand, 360-degree slam in Saturday’s quarterfinals, will be difficult to beat in this recruitment. It was “always going to be a pretty big hurdle to climb,” and Johnson has jumped as high as he can to keep this homegrown talent in Alabama, but has he closed the gap?
“Not really,” Petty said. “Kind of, but not sort of.”
He had trouble verbalizing his point there, but eventually explained that Calipari and Co. are working just as hard as Johnson and the Tide to land him – so it’s difficult to gain ground on the Wildcats. But maybe there’s a bright side: Petty, who is averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and shooting 36 percent from 3-point range on Nike’s EYBL circuit this summer, still hasn’t made a decision.
“The longer it goes on, the better it might be for Alabama,” Meyer said. “You hope it isn’t false hope for Avery and Alabama fans, but you’d think hope increases with every day he stays open.”
To that point, Petty said he still plans to take all five official visits – none of which have been scheduled yet – before making a decision.
But there’s some more bad news for the Tide. Petty joined 5-star power forward P.J. Washington on Team Penny this summer and the pair would like to continue that chemistry in college. “We talk all the time about it,” Petty said. And the Cats are in great shape to land Washington.
Izzo might not have a solution to that problem.
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