We are 47 days away from the exhibition game with Trevecca Nazarene, which will mark the beginning of the Avery Johnson era in Tuscaloosa. Excitement for the start of basketball season is as high as it's been in several years. Much of that is attributable to the outstanding work that has been put in by Avery Johnson and his staff to raise the profile of the program and sell their vision of what Alabama basketball can be. The staff has been recruiting like crazy, and I suspect we will see more good news concerning the 2016 class in the wake of the Terrance Ferguson commitment.
That is the future. There's still the 2015-16 season to play. While the popular opinion is that this could be a transition season for the program, the foundation for that future must be laid this season. Improved play on both ends of the floor, improved chemistry, improved player development, and an overall better atmosphere in Coleman Coliseum will go a long way towards putting the pieces in place to make a significant leap in the 2016-17 season, meaning the importance of this group of players cannot be understated.
It will be a relatively young team. Out of the 10 scholarship players available for games this season, half of them will be freshmen and sophomores. That will put a lot of pressure on young players to grow up fast as all 10 guys will need to play a role of some kind. It will also put pressure on the junior and senior players to play with a greater level of consistency. There will likely be some ups-and-downs, but if this staff has the coaching chops we believe they do, this should be a team that improves throughout the season.
As I've done the last couple of years, I'd like to provide a short preview of each player on the Alabama roster, starting with the guards. Despite the struggles the last couple of seasons, Alabama remained strong in the backcourt with guys like Trevor Releford, Levi Randolph, Rodney Cooper, Trevor Lacey and Andrew Steele. Coming into this season, there are more questions than usual at the guard positions.
Retin Obasohan - 6'2, 210 lbs - Retin enters his fifth and final season with the program. He's been an easy guy to pull for. Not only is he a good student and, by all accounts, a great person, he's also worked really hard to go from being a redshirt player his first season to being a contributor the last three seasons. When he first arrived, he wasn't much more than an athlete playing basketball. In the last three seasons, he's improved his overall skill set. His greatest asset so far has been on defense, finishing among the team leaders in steals and blocks. On the offensive end, Retin has improved his shooting (finished second on the team in 3 point percentage last season at 37.8%), finishing at the rim, and decision making when the ball is in his hand. Last season he got off to a slow start following ankle surgery in the summer, but filled in admirably for the team at point guard after Ricky Tarrant was lost for the season. Retin scored in double figures 11 times in the final 12 games. Areas he needs to work on are distributing the basketball and his free throw shooting. A combo guard, Retin can play the 1, 2 or even the 3 in a small line-up because of his athleticism and ability to defend. I certainly can see him being among the best guards in the league from a defensive standpoint. The coaches will count on him to be a leader due to his experience, and he must continue to improve on the offensive end as there is no clear cut go-to guy on this team (at least, not on paper), meaning it may be a score-by-committee approach on offense for this team. Retin has improved enough that he can, given the opportunity and good health, be a double figure scorer.
Arthur Edwards - 6'6, 217 lbs - Edwards is a graduate transfer who will play one year at Alabama. He transferred from New Mexico where he averaged 3.9 ppg, and 2.0 rpg in 12 minutes for the Lobos. He missed eight games last season due to an injury. What Edwards' role for this team will be remains to be seen. He can play the 2 or 3, maybe even the 4 if Alabama goes with a really small line-up, but can he provide more production than his numbers at New Mexico suggest? His shooting numbers last season at New Mexico were 36.1% (FG), 22.2% (3pt) and 66.7% (FT). He also averaged a turnover and almost two fouls per game in only 12 minutes. That doesn't exactly invoke confidence to an outsider, but Avery and his staff saw something in him so I will defer to their judgement. There is so much uncertainty at the 2 and 3 for this team, Edwards will have every opportunity to earn minutes. What he does with those minutes is up to him.
Justin Coleman - 5'10, 168 lbs - The former Alabama 5A High School Player of the Year will look to make a jump in his sophomore season after an inconsistent freshman campaign. Coleman gained valuable experience last season, playing in all 34 games, starting in 9 of those games. He was third on the team in assists, a stat that I think he can improve this season. It appears he will compete for minutes at the point with incoming freshman, Dazon Ingram. While his ability to handle the ball and pass it are solid, he must improve his shooting. Last season his averages were 25.9% (FG), and 23.9% (3pt). He's a much better shooter than those numbers, and he must improve them if he's going to be a valuable member of this team. His free throw percentage was good (75%), but he averaged less than 2 FT attempts per game. He has to be a more physical player on both ends of the court. Avery Johnson's preference to play uptempo should benefit Justin, provided this team is able to play that way consistently.
Lawson Schaffer - 5'11, 160 lbs - A freshman, Schaffer joins the program as a "preferred walk-on" He had a great high school career at Cullman High, setting the career scoring record at the school. The Alabama Sports Writers Association (ASWA) named him the 6A Player of the Year. Schaffer could have chosen to attend a number of schools as a scholarship player, yet chose to come to Tuscaloosa. He's not your average walk-on, and it wouldn't surprise me if he finds a way to play a role over the course of the next four years. He may even find a way onto the floor this season. He was a 40% 3-pt shooter in high school, and also averaged almost 8 assists and 7 rebounds a game despite being listed as under six feet. He'll have to spend some time in the weight room before he has a remote chance of playing meaningful minutes against SEC competition, but it'll be interesting to track his progress under the new coaching staff.
Dazon Ingram - 6'5, 205 lbs - One of three freshmen that signed with Alabama in the class of 2015, Ingram was originally committed to Anthony Grant and his staff, before briefly decommitting in the wake of Grant's dismissal. The new coaching staff continued to recruit Dazon, resulting in his decision to recommit to Alabama. It was a good decision on the part of the new staff. Voted Mr. Basketball and the 7A Player of the Year, Ingram will be counted on to be an immediate contributor for this team. It appears Ingram will share point guard duties with Justin Coleman, but his length and athleticism could allow him to play up to three different spots on the floor, if necessary. Ingram is going to be really fun to watch in open court situations as his ball-handling skills and ability to finish in transition are very impressive. His length should come in handy on the defensive side in forcing turnovers and converting those into points on the other end. His jump shot may need a little work and, like most freshmen, time spent in the weight room will be time well spent, but Ingram has the potential to become a top notch player before his time in Tuscaloosa is over.
Brandon Austin - 6'5, 197 lbs - Originally committed to the Anthony Grant staff, Austin never wavered in his commitment, despite Grant's dismissal. I assume the fact that Antoine Pettway remained on staff played a large part in that decision. Austin hails from my neck of the woods (Montgomery) so I am pulling hard for him to succeed in Tuscaloosa. Austin played for 6A power, Carver, leading them to the 2015 state championship and earning tournament MVP honors. Due to the void at the 2 and 3 that Alabama is facing this season, Austin will have opportunities to get on the floor. He provides length on the perimeter at 6'5, which is always a good thing, and seems to be a point of emphasis in recruiting for Coach Avery and his staff. Like some of the other guys referenced earlier, you can move Austin around the perimeter and he should remain comfortable. He's a great athlete who is able to get to the basket, and he is capable of knocking down jump shots, but he may be a bit streaky at this point in his career. However, if there's a dark horse on this team, I'm going with Austin.