Alabama Basketball: Time to give Avery Johnson his due

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 08: Avery Johnson the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide gives instructions to John Petty
ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 08: Avery Johnson the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide gives instructions to John Petty /

Alabama basketball won an NCAA Tournament game Thursday night for the first time in 12 seasons. It is time to acknowledge Avery Johnson for a successful rebuild of the Tide program.

Three years ago, when Avery Johnson told Alabama basketball fans to buckle up, there was a misunderstanding. Some thought that meant a fast ascent to the elite tier of college basketball. Instead, it has been a roller coaster ride that has appeared to derail numerous times.

When Collin Sexton signed on along with a strong group of other freshmen, message boards hummed with talk of Elite Eight and Final Four appearances. Instead, the Alabama basketball team has won less than 56 percent of its games under Avery.

A big chunk of goodwill was lost by the enthusiastic and energetic head coach when the team stumbled late in the regular season. On a cold Thursday night in Pittsburgh, all was forgiven. At least, it should have been forgiven. Anyone not seeing the significant strides Alabama basketball has made under Avery is mistaken.

Alabama basketball had been on a downward spiral that goes back to another Thursday, March 7th, 2005. On that day, Bruce Pearl led Milwaukee-Wisconsin to a 10 point upset over the Tide in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Tide did manage an NCAA Tournament win the following season while going 18-13, but Gottfried’s program was slipping fast. In Gottfried’s last four seasons and six seasons of Anthony Grant, the Tide averaged over 14 losses.

Who knew ‘buckle up’ meant such a rocky ride?

In three seasons under Avery Johnson, the Tide has averaged 15 losses. After a five-loss streak that included blowouts by Auburn and Florida, some fans gave up on Avery. There were claims nothing had changed from the Anthony Grant years. Avery was questioned for his playing rotation, his offensive tactics, even his ability to motivate his team. A vocal minority of fans became convinced he should be fired.

Before the SEC Tournament, I had little optimism about Avery’s Alabama basketball future. All that has changed for me and I hope for all other Avery-doubters. The wins over the Aggies, Auburn and the Hokies show a team that has matured over the season. A team cannot be brought back from the dead without good coaching. Avery can do more than recruit. He can coach too.

It matters little if the Tide can get past Villanova. A win over the Wildcats is more possible than probable. Win or lose, Alabama basketball fans should be assured Avery Johnson is building a program for consistent SEC and NCAA Tournament success.

Next: What does Collin mean to the Tide?

Collin Sexton’s Alabama basketball career will be short. It will be sad to see him move on to the NBA. What a joy it has been to watch his fearlessness. Alabama basketball is a team effort, but Collin’s will drives his teammates.