My apologies for not posting this sooner, but the day job has kept me busy this week. I attended the BBQ/Open Practice for Tide Pride Members Tuesday.
-Unlike in previous years, Coach Johnson was mic'd up. It was interesting to hear the team's terminology for certain things. CAJ was constantly coaching, stopping plays for "teachable moments" and really gave thorough instructions throughout.
-Athletic Director Greg Byrne attended and introduced the Coach and staff.
-The team looked fresh despite having already practiced for two hours in the back gym.
-I was a little disappointed that there was no scrimmaging. It was a more structured practice with an emphasis on the offense.
-Floor spacing was a major point of emphasis. Coach spent a lot of time working with the guards and small forwards on reading the defense and making the right decision. I think he knows that with Sexton and Petty's speed, they will get some penetration which will cause some defensive rotations leading to mismatches on the weak side.
-Davis shot the ball well making a few 3s. Hopefully he will be a bit more consistent this year. I think having Herb Jones, who has tremendous upside as an all-around player, pushing him for playing time will be a positive.
-Giddens and Hall will give us the best inside presence we've had in years. Coach did have to implore Giddens to use his size and be more physical in the paint a couple of times.
-Alex Reese has improved even since the Canada trip. He's getting stronger, and I could see him getting some minutes as a stretch 4 depending on matchups.
-They did a lot of work on transition situations where Coach would simulate a "make or miss" by the opponent and everyone would sprint to the other end to try to score quickly.
-Sexton stole the show in the late game situation drill. They practiced a tie game scenario coming out of a timeout with 20 seconds left. Coach had to stop him a few times because he was starting the play too soon, which would have left time on the clock. After Coach made him wait till about 8 seconds to start the play, he went to his left between the wing and the corner, elevated with a man in his face and calmly drained a 3 that barely even touched the net. Next on defense, while the guard was running down the clock waiting to start the play, Collin began clapping his hands and starting the "DE-FENSE" chant.
-Enjoy Sexton and Petty this year, because I expect both will be in the NBA in 2018.
-Riley Norris did not practice as he is recovering from a groin injury.
-Coach spoke and answered questions at the conclusion, some things that stood out to me:
-"We need you to be here and be loud, and if you can't use your tickets, find someone who can. A lot of places we play in the SEC sell out every game, and it's loud, and we need that here. Because we have a 15,000 seat arena, when we only have 6,000 or so here, it looks and feels kind of empty."
-We're going to try to run and press more. We have a lot of different combinations we can use. We can play Hall and Giddens at the same time and have a really big lineup, and we have a lot of smaller quick guys we can use and go small. We have a lot of length and should be a good defensive team.
-"St. Louis is an 8 hour drive. Pair up and drive 4 hrs each. Plan your vacation now like some of our fans do to travel for other sports around here. I want there to be the largest Bama fan contingent ever at the SEC tournament in St. Louis." (Personal editorial here on this one...I REALLY disagree with the SEC putting the tournament in St. Louis. We are the SOUTHEASTERN Conference, so why are we playing it in a Midwestern city? It's not convenient to anybody not in Kentucky, Arkansas, or Missouri, and it's not easy to get to from here. There's no longer direct flights from BHM so by the time you connect, etc you only save one or two hours over driving. All of that being said, if we make it to Saturday I'll be there. I think going to Arizona, NYC, and Maryland earns me a hall pass out of the weekday games in that armpit of a city.)
Of course it's still early, but after watching this practice and seeing the games in Canada, my impressions are that this is a good team right now. I think our top 25 ranking is legit, and we have the potential to be a great team. The keys to the season will be continuing to develop chemistry between the newcomers and veterans, and taking care of the basketball. We have a lot of decent ball handlers, expect to see Sexton, Petty, Dazon, and Jr all run point at different times, but we don't have a "true point guard." If we limit turnovers and play good defense, we can compete with any team in the country. For once, I'm not really worried about our ability to score.