The University of Alabama introduced its new basketball coach today in former Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson. The folks over at RollBamaRoll recapped his press conference if you're interested in reading about it.
Johnson joins two other big name hires since the end of the 2014/15 regular season ended. Tennessee hired former Texas coach Rick Barnes and Mississippi State tabbed former UCLA coach Ben Howland. This group is now a part of a very strong core of SEC coaches that include the likes of John Calipari, Billy Donavon, and of course Auburn's own Bruce Pearl.
Teams in the SEC appear to be getting very serious about basketball. They have to be with John Calipari currently snatching up top recruiting classes every season and doing his car-salesman best up there at Kentucky. It's getting to the point where SEC basketball is going to resemble SEC West football... the coach finishing at the bottom of the conference is still going to be one of the higher paid coaches in the nation.
Why Are We Talking About Alabama's New Coach?
When Auburn hired Bruce Pearl, I was telling people that it was the best thing to happen to basketball in the state of Alabama in a long time. Auburn made the commitment to take a gamble on a coach still under a show-cause, but who was a proven winner. The Tigers dropped some serious cash to hire a big name coach.
There was no way Alabama was going to let that stand without answering. I think that short of a stellar season and NCAA run, Anthony Grant was likely doomed from the moment Auburn made that move. He was quickly fired at Alabama after the season ended and Alabama began looking at big names.
There was plenty of talk about their flirtation with Wichita State's Gregg Marshall. Wichita State dumped a truck load of money in his lap to keep him out in Kansas. The search dragged on until the Tide landed on Avery Johnson to take over.
I don't know enough about basketball to judge the hire in terms of basketball merit. What I can judge is that the Tide's coaching search shows how much they were dedicated to hiring someone to compete not only against Bruce Pearl at Auburn but in the SEC. That type of commitment is good for SEC Basketball in general, and it's fantastic for basketball in the state of Alabama.
Bruce Pearl wants the Tigers playing UAB. He wants in-state rivalries. Having a strong Iron Bowl rivalry on the hard court will increase the presence of both schools in the national spotlight and it will help keep talent within the state when it comes to recruiting. Pearl's recruiting ability is well-known. Before he coached a single game at Auburn he locked up a Top-15 college basketball recruiting class.
Johnson is certainly a big name from his time in the NBA. How he'll perform at the college level is an unknown. His recruiting ability is also unproven, so living up to this statement may be tough.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Avery Johnson: "we want to put a fence around the state of Alabama" in recruiting. "We're taking this program where it's never been."</p>— John Zenor (@jzenor) <a href="https://twitter.com/jzenor/status/585838917552906241">April 8, 2015</a></blockquote>
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He only has a short time to pick up any more recruits in this year's recruiting cycle, where the Crimson Tide currently rank 62nd in the 247Sports team rankings.
I hope Johnson is successful enough at Alabama that it does drive popularity of the game in the state. I hope the Iron Bowl of basketball gets to be a really big deal that fans of both schools can really enjoy. I, of course, don't wish him TOO much success, but that's just the way the rivalry is.
Time will tell what this hire means for Alabama and for the state of the Iron Bowl rivalry. It's going to be fun to find out.