Bama Hoops Hype

The importance of year three for Johnson, Tide basketball

Alabama guard Avery Johnson Jr (No. 5) handling the ball versus South Carolina in 2017 SEC Tournament: Joseph Habshey - Bama Hoops Hype

The third season for coaches at the University of Alabama is a mark for success.

In football, Nick Saban earned his first national championship in 2009 – after arriving at Tuscaloosa in 2007 from the National Football League. Former Crimson Tide men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant took the program to the NCAA Tournament in the 2011-12 season, following his emergence onto the campus in 2009 from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Even Dana Duckworth’s predecessor, Sarah Patterson, for Alabama gymnastics and softball coach Patrick Murphy got their respective clubs going by year three of their coaching tenures.

After two years of National Invitation Tournament appearances, fans, media pundits and former players believe that next season will be the year for coach Avery Johnson and Tide basketball.

“It’s going to be a huge year,” ex-Tide standout Chris Hines said. “They say the third time is the charm and he’s (Johnson) been able to weed out some guys and get the players that he wants.”

What Hines is referring to is the nation’s 4th-ranked signing class and No. 2 Southeastern Conference group with Collin Sexton, Alex Reese, Herb Jones, John Petty and Galin Smith.

This unit for 2017 along with the returning experience has set Alabama up with much hype, and according to a few media outlets – it’s being projected as a top-25 team for the 2017-18 season.

“This is the top recruiting class nationally in my opinion,” Hines said. “Alabama has an NBA-caliber big man in Alex Reese and if everyone helps each other out, we can make some noise.”

While excitement bubbles over for fans, expectations will await the Tide. In catching up Hines’ former teammate, Andrew Steele, he said the third year is when you realistically judge a coach.

“The biggest jump occurs between your third and fourth season,” Steele said.

Though Hines wasn’t on the NCAA Tourney team, Steele mentioned that it took a lot for that group to reach March Madness. It finished a perfect 19-0 at Coleman Coliseum a season ago.

“We started off strong, but we had our struggles,” he said. “We found a way to rebound and with a young team, it took time to learn the coaches. We had a balance of youth and experience.”

Tough times are appealing to no one, but adversity can be a key ingredient in sparking togetherness and excellence for a sport and school. In the aftermath of a tragic April 2011 tornado, UA and the Tuscaloosa community would witness national championships in football, gymnastics, softball, tennis and goal, while men’s basketball cracked the glorious “Big Dance.”

“That year started the rebuilding of a city,” Steele said. “Everyone just came together.”

Despite losing Corban Collins, Jimmie Taylor, Bola Olaniyan and Ar’Mond Davis (transfer), Alabama returns its core group of Dazon Ingram, Braxton Key, Riley Norris and Donta Hall.

“Dazon and Avery Johnson Jr., will be the voices next season,” Hines said. “Lawson Schaffer will be a voice as well, but also a huge energy guy. Braxton Key will be critical also and with more playing time, I expect Donta Hall to have a breakout year and then go to the NBA.”

With a show of hands, the majority of fans would peg missed opportunities at the free throw line as the lone aspect that killed the Tide’s dreams of the NCAA Tournament a season ago.

“Every year you look at what you could’ve done better,” Hines said. “We could have beaten a lot of SEC teams that made it to the NCAA Tournament, if we would have made free throws.”

Alabama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts told the media during the first week of spring ball that when “you lose in the national championship game, the feeling stays with you.”

“These guys don’t want that taste in their mouths next season,” Hines said.

“No one wants to lose on free throws. Those guys will be better.”

A trip to the big tournament would suffice; however, an SEC title and a major run in March Madness would turn the Capstone on its head. Hines believes basketball is trending upward.

“I feel like we can be great in football and basketball,” he said. “Like Florida, I want us to be on top in both sports. We are Alabama. The SEC is more than just a football conference.”

Stephen M. Smith covers Alabama men’s basketball for Bama Hoops Hype. You can like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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