When you think of sports in Alabama, football will always be first, second and third to many people in the state. And while it’s totally understandable and will likely never change, take a second and look at the current landscape of College Basketball in Alabama.
Over the last four seasons, Auburn has won a SEC Regular Season Title, a SEC Tournament title, appeared in 2 (would have been 3) NCAA Tournaments and went to their first Final Four in 2019.
Alabama has a SEC Regular Season and Tournament title on their resume from this past season, 2 NCAA Tournaments appearances and a Sweet 16 berth this year. And don’t sleep on what is happening at UAB and South Alabama right now.
Coach Andy Kennedy has re-energized the UAB program and will brings in a couple of former SEC players in Jamal Johnson and KJ Buffen from Ole Miss. Expect the Blazers to be one of the teams if not the team to beat in Conference USA this season.
Richie Riley is turning South Alabama into Transfer U, as he has landed several former SEC players in the last few years including former Tigers Turbo Jones and Javon Franklin, along with former Texas A&M Aggie Jay Jay Chandler. The Jaguars will be a team to watch this year in the Sun Belt. Auburn’s 3-year series ended with them after last year but the Jaguars now have a 2-for-1 series with Alabama beginning in Tuscaloosa this season.
Side note: Really hope Auburn gets UAB and/or South Alabama back on the schedule this season.
And while we’re here: North Alabama went to the Atlantic Sun title game this year as they continue their transition into Division 1, Jacksonville State normally finishes in the upper half of the OVC, while Troy and Samford continue their rebuilds under Scott Cross and Bucky McMillan respectively.
But we’ll focus mostly here on Auburn and Alabama.
While it was a down year for the Tigers this past season, it’s hard not to look ahead to basketball season, which begins 30 weeks from today. Auburn may have lost Sharife Cooper, Justin Powell, Jamal Johnson, Javon Franklin, and possibly JT Thor but Bruce Pearl has reinforcements on the way.
He’s bringing in the highest rated recruit in Auburn history in Jabari Smith, a dominant power forward from the Atlanta area who’s a consensus Top 5 player in America. He’s also got the Oklahoma sharpshooter Trey Alexander coming to the Plains as well.
In the transfer portal, Coach Pearl has filled the point guard void left with Sharife off to the NBA. He first got a combo-guard in Zep Jasper, a player who has 3 years of college experience under his belt at Charleston while averaging 15.6 PPG this past season.
At point guard, he also landed Eastern Kentucky’s Wendell Green who shot 37.3% from 3-point range this past season. Green led all NCAA freshmen last year in assists and was 2nd in points, averaging 15.8 PPG and 5 APG on the season and averaged 24 PPG in his final 5 games as a member of the Colonels. Oh and he’s 5’11” you say? There’s just so much about this guy that reminds me of a former Auburn Point Guard who was in the title of a song that Auburn fans know and love.
Jasper and Green join a backcourt that will also feature the freshmen Alexander along with rising junior Allen Flanigan who was Auburn’s best and most improved player from Year 1 to Year 2. If Flanigan takes another jump this season, he’s likely a 2022 NBA 1st Round Draft Pick.
Then yesterday, Bruce Pearl landed 7’1” 245 pounder Walker Kessler from UNC, adding another Georgia native to the fold. He averaged just 4.4 PPG this past season off of the bench for the Tar Heels but Auburn wanted him badly in the Class of 2020. Now, he gets a 2nd chance to wear the Orange and Blue and should slide right into the center spot to join a loaded frontcourt.
Add in juniors Jaylin Williams, Devan Cambridge and Stretch Akingbola along with sophomores Chris Moore and Dylan Cardwell and this will be a fun group to watch next season, that will also be much more experienced than last year’s team.
Needless to say, it’s been a rough few days for the doom and gloomers who were panicking after Powell and other Auburn players hit the transfer portal a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile at Alabama, while they will lose Herb Jones, Alex Reese and John Petty, Nate Oats is simply reloading in Tuscaloosa. They added Furman transfer forward Noah Gurley, a player Auburn targeted for a while before setting their sites on Kessler. They’ve also added Nimari Burnett from Texas Tech and bring in a Top 10 recruiting class led by JD Davison at Point Guard. He, along with Jahvon Quinerly will form a dynamic group of guards in Tuscaloosa next season. And while I know Auburn fans don’t want to hear this, Alabama isn’t going anywhere as long as Oats is in town. The days of underachieving there are over for now and if anything, it makes the games and battle between these two schools even better as they fight for state bragging rights and conference supremacy.
Alabama will likely be predicted by the media to be a Top 10 team (again) this upcoming year but Auburn shouldn’t be ranked too far behind them at this point with the additions they have made to their roster.
So strap yourselves in ladies and gentlemen because while football will always be the pied piper of this state, that’s not the only sport people should be paying attention to year-round in this state and we’ve got Bruce Pearl and Nate Oats to thank for that.