Avery Johnson's first season at Alabama may not stand out in the annals of Crimson Tide basketball history when it's all said and done, but it was a very important one that laid the foundation for what's to come in Tuscaloosa.
Johnson led an under-developed and offensively-challenged group of Anthony Grant leftovers to the brink of an NCAA Tournament berth, only to see the over-achieving bunch fade badly the last few weeks of the season. This was an extremely disciplined, well-coached group, and that bodes well for the future of the hoops program.
Moving forward, the Alabama roster will undergo quite a face-lift, as there are a number of people leaving and arriving at the Capstone. Of course, seniors Retin Obasohan and Arthur Edwards have exhausted their eligibility and will be moving on with their lives. Both guys were major contributors to the team this season, particularly Obasohan, and it will be tough to replace them. On top of that, guard Justin Coleman and forward Michael Kessens have also decided to leave the team.
With all of that upheaval, the Crimson Tide now have a decent amount of spots to fill on the squad, as there will only be six scholarship players returning who played this past season (Riley Norris, Brandon Austin, Dazon Ingram, Shannon Hale, Jimmie Taylor, and Donta Hall). However, wing forward Nick King and guard Avery Johnson Jr. will be eligible to play next season after sitting out this past year. On top of that, Alabama already has signed commitments from 4-star JUCO swing-man Ar'Mond Davis and 4-star stretch-forward Braxton Key. Both are long players (Davis: 6'6, Key: 6'7) who will give Alabama some serious flexibility on the court.
Avery Johnson is clearly looking to craft a roster with size throughout the line-up. The projected starting five for next season's team should look something like this:
- PG 6'5 Dazon Ingram (7.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- OG 6'6 Riley Norris (7.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.8 SPG)
- SF 6'6 Ar'Mond Davis (16.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.1 SPG*)
- WF 6'8 Shannon Hale (10.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.5 APG)
- C 6'10 Jimmie Taylor (5.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG)
- G 5'11 Avery Johnson Jr. (didn't play much in his one season at Texas A&M)
- G 6'5 Brandon Austin (1.5 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
- F 6'7 Nick King (7.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.0 APG**)
- F 6'7 Braxton Key (Consensus **** SF)
- C 6'9 Donta Hall (2.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG)
The late signing period for college basketball begins in about two weeks on April 13th. This period will run through May 18th, so there probably won't be a rush of recruits signing LOIs on a single day like what happens in football. Avery Johnson and his staff have been hard at work meeting with different recruits, many of which haven't been confirmed by most of the recruiting services. The two confirmed players that the staff have their sights on is 4-star big-man Bruno Fernando and 3-star guard Christian Vital.
These two players seem to align well with the Tide's two biggest weaknesses: outside scoring and quality play in the post, both offensively and on the boards. Vital is a pure shooter and Fernando is a force around the rim. Currently, UConn is seen as the leader in the clubhouse for Vital's services, and Fernando is being recruited hard by both Florida State and SMU. Avery Johnson will have his work cut out for him trying to land these two prospects, but he's certainly been able to pull off some upsets thus far.
(Note: Fernando committed to SMU over the weekend, after this article was written. Avery Johnson is expected to make one last pitch to McDonald's All-American center Marques Bolden, who had Alabama in his top 8 the last time he revealed his list of schools, though he is expected to commit to either Duke or Kentucky.)
Another well Johnson can tap into is the seemingly ever-expanding transfer market. Coleman and Kessens are certainly not the only players leaving their current team, as college basketball has seen an incredibly large amount of transfers this off-season. The Tide have zeroed in on two guys in particular: shooting guard Avery Woodson (9.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG), a graduate transfer from Memphis, and 6'9 forward Dylan Osetkowski (11.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG), Tulane's best post player. Woodson would be eligible immediately next season, but Osetkowski will have to sit out a year. Both players have a number of teams lighting up their phones, but Alabama is right in the thick of things.
Woodson seems to be the most likely addition of the four current targets; having King on the roster already certainly doesn't hurt. Woodson is a pure shooter who would add a legitimate perimeter threat. He shot 43.0% from the three-point line this past season, which led the Tigers. He would be an excellent addition to the team as a scoring threat off of the bench.
Avery Johnson has laid the foundation for his rebuild of the Alabama basketball program. An over-achieving first season gave a glimpse of what is to come for Tide fans, and this program should finally be headed back in the right direction. However, there is much work left to be done, and Johnson knows as well as anyone that he needs to bring in a bunch more talent if he hopes to elevate the Crimson Tide back to the top of the SEC.