Avery Johnson Is Changing Alabama Basketball Culture

    Avery Johnson is changing the Alabama basketball culture in just year one of his presence in Tuscaloosa.

    February 23, 2016

    He hasn’t even spent a full season in Tuscaloosa yet, but Avery Johnson is already significantly changing Alabama basketball culture. 

    Alabama is hard football country, but if Avery Johnson has anything to say about it, that’s going to change.

    Johnson took over the Crimson Tide back in April with little more than a lot of enthusiasm. Sure, he played 16 years in the NBA and was known as a fantastic leader, and he was the “NBA Coach of the Year” in 2006 with the Dallas Mavericks. It’s not like the guy was raw from the street.

    But coaching in the NBA and coaching in college are two drastically different experiences, and rarely has success at one level translated to the other. Larry Brown has done it again and again. Brad Stevens is doing a pretty good job of it with the Boston Celtics right now. Rick Pitino and John Calipari both tried to move to the pros from the college game, but they didn’t have much fun.

    Johnson, of course, is going the other direction. There’s a lot to be said for dealing with college kids, guys who automatically respect you because you played in The League. Other NBA guys such as Eric Musselman (Nevada), Mark Price (Charlotte) and Chris Mullin (St. John’s) are making the NBA-to-college loop this year, with varying degrees of success.

    But Johnson was given the task of taking a high-profile job at Alabama’s lower-profile sport. The Crimson Tide have reached the NCAA Tournament just once since 2006, and they went out in the Round of 64 in 2012 under Anthony Grant. They went 4-19 on the road in the last two seasons, and the program was the picture of inconsistency last season, going 19-15 and failing to win back-to-back games from Jan. 10 on.

    [MORE: Alabama’s 3 Recruiting Pitches To 2017 Prospects]

    This season has seen Johnson not quite work wonders, but certainly build some pride. The Tide sit at 16-10 overall and 7-7 in the SEC, and they already own wins over Wichita State, Notre Dame and South Carolina. A three-game losing streak in late January hardened Alabama, but the team has bounced back by winning six of its last eight. Victories over Texas A&M at home and at Florida and LSU have pushed the Tide into the NCAA Tournament picture.

    Johnson is winning with a positive attitude and by holding his players accountable. He has changed the culture at ‘Bama, and he has made his players believe they shouldn’t back down from anyone.

    The emergence of senior Retin Obasohan, who has blossomed from a 6.2 point a night guy to a 16.9 point per game star under Johnson’s leadership, has been huge for Alabama this year. The Tide needed a go-to guy, and Obasohan built on the confidence Johnson showed in him early in the year. Shannon Hale and Arthur Edwards have provided balance, and the team’s defense has improved as the season has progressed.

    Not that this is a group without flaws. Offensively, the team can suffer some brownouts and can be sloppy with the ball. The Tide doesn’t particularly shoot the three as well as one might like, which creates problems when Alabama falls behind. Consistently getting to the free-throw line has been an issue, as well.

    Still, this is a program that is ahead of schedule right now. Johnson has worked tirelessly to create excitement around his program, and his enthusiasm has started to pay off.

    Now the Tide have a chance to make a statement. They have to travel to Lexington to take on the mighty, mighty Kentucky Wildcats, and they’re catching UK at a bad time. Kentucky just lost to Texas A&M, so this will be a focused team, and losing at home isn’t a hobby for UK. Throw in that Kentucky ripped ‘Bama by 16 earlier this year, and this might seem like another cruise-control job by the ‘Cats.

    But it won’t be if Johnson has anything to say about it. Johnson is a film-hound, someone who is relentless at looking for weaknesses in opponents. It’s what made him such a great player in the NBA, and his gameplans on the pro level as a coach helped the Mavs score wins they probably shouldn’t have.

    Johnson has spent his career as an underdog, and he has come out on top more often than not. He’s a great long-term solution for the Crimson Tide, and he’ll have a chance to make a mark vs. Kentucky. If the Tide win, their Dance ticket will be all but punched. It won’t be easy, but Alabama would love to play giant killer one more time this year.

    MORE TIDE: Alabama Is Paying A Hefty Price Tag For Arkansas State Game


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