In his first game at the Marshall County Hoop Fest on Friday, John Petty didn’t waste much time making his presence felt.
The highly athletic 6-foot-5 guard threw down a thunderous dunk on his team’s first possession. He skied high to grab a defensive rebound on the other end, then made a terrific pass from the perimeter for an assist on his second offensive trip.
A few weeks ago, many recruiting analysts figured he’d be a University of Kentucky signee by the time he got to Hoop Fest.
Instead, he’ll be staying home in Alabama.
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One of the main reasons for that is Avery Johnson.
The former NBA point guard and head coach was hired last year to lead the Crimson Tide — his first college coaching job — and one of his first priorities was to zero in on prime recruiting targets from the class of 2017 and build relationships with those players.
At the top of that list was Petty, a Huntsville native who earned Alabama Mr. Basketball honors last season and was the first player from the 2017 class to earn a scholarship offer from UK.
He’s really engaging. ... I think it’s easy, if you’re a player, to be intrigued by Avery Johnson.
Evan Daniels, Scout.com recruiting analyst
John Calipari made several trips to meet with Petty and was a fixture for his games on the Nike circuit. But Johnson was always around, too, and Petty ultimately went with the home-state school, announcing his commitment during halftime of his team’s season opener last month.
“Avery Johnson is just a great guy, for one,” Petty told the Herald-Leader this weekend. “He has a great standpoint from a player’s point of view of the game, and he’s also a great coach. So he can basically lead me and tell me a lot about what I need to do and how to do it.”
A few hours before Petty announced his Alabama commitment, the Crimson Tide landed an even better prospect — according to the recruiting rankings — in five-star point guard Collin Sexton, the leading scorer on the Nike circuit and the No. 9 overall player in the Scout.com rankings for 2017.
Johnson made Sexton a priority before some major schools even knew who he was, and that early contact paid off when Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona came through with scholarship offers later in the process.
Alabama also signed four-star power forward Alex Reese (another Top 100 recruit), three-star small forward Herb Jones and under-the-radar center Galin Smith during the early period. That five-man class is ranked No. 5 nationally by Scout.com, the program’s best ever in the modern era of recruiting rankings.
Much of the credit goes to Johnson, who has 16 years of playing experience in the NBA, seven years of head coaching experience in the league and an infectious personality that comes in handy on the recruiting trail.
“He’s really engaging,” said Scout.com’s Evan Daniels. “And he’s a guy that can clearly build quality relationships with his players. And I think you’re seeing that with how he’s recruiting. He has a good staff, too. Their assistants are doing a good job of prioritizing their players, and they’re going in and building relationships.
“I think it’s easy, if you’re a player, to be intrigued by Avery Johnson, because he’s not only had success as a player in the NBA, but also as a coach. And I’m sure he uses that as a selling point.”
Alabama had the No. 10 class nationally in 2005, the program’s best until this cycle.
Johnson was a recent guest on Daniels’ podcast, “The Sidelines,” and he talked on that show about Alabama needing to make a recruiting splash early in his tenure.
The Tide beat Kentucky for Petty. They beat Kansas for Sexton.
“We’ve gotten out there and rolled up our sleeves with a lot of the big schools,” Johnson said. “And we’re after the same kids now. And hopefully we’ll get our share.”
As of now, Alabama has the second-best 2017 recruiting class in the Southeastern Conference, behind only Kentucky. That’s a great start for Johnson and his coaching staff, which includes former UK player and SEC head coach John Pelphrey.
Whether Johnson can build Bama into a perennial contender on the recruiting trail remains to be seen.
“They have a good, all-around, well-balanced group,” Daniels said. “I think it’s probably too early to say that they’re going to be a regular top-10, top-15 recruiting team. But they’re certainly starting this thing off on the right foot.
“If they’re able to get another top-10, top-15 recruiting class, then you’re talking about Alabama really turning this thing around.”
SEC teams in the Scout.com class of 2017 rankings
- 1. Kentucky
- 5. Alabama
- 6. Auburn
- 15. Texas A&M
- 18. Mississippi State