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Avery Johnson discusses excitement over Tide's No. 2-ranked class of signees (via Crimson Magazine)

11 Nov 2016 Stan J. Griffin

By Stan J. Griffin: November 11, 2016

Photo by Stan J. Griffin

You will have to excuse University of Alabama men's basketball coach if he appeared to have an extra glow of excitement during a media session held at Coleman Coliseum Friday morning.
And it was even more of an enthusiastic demeanor than usual for the always-effervescent and typically-animated second-year Crimson Tide coach.
But there was certainly good reason for this.
Friday's press conference allowed Johnson the opportunity to discuss his budding program's Class of 2017 signee group, ranked No. 2 in the nation by Scout.com and Rivals.com, and a landmark five-man class that will rank as the highest one in the annals of Alabama men's basketball.
That class includes guards Herb Jones (Hale County High School), John Petty (Jemison High School in Huntsville) and Collin Sexton (Pebblebrook of Mableton, Ga.) and forwards Alex Reese (Pelham High School) and Galin Smith (Clinton High School, Miss.).  All five were rated as either four-star or five-star prospects, and all were Top 100 recruits nationally according to Rivals.com.
After thanking numerous individuals for their contributions to the class, including UA Director of Athletics Bill Battle, faculty members, Alabama football coach Nick Saban and members of his coaching staff among others, Johnson noted that the class represents an enormous milestone in the history of Crimson Tide basketball, and also sends a message regarding the mission of his program.
"This is the result of everybody pulling in the same direction and this is not about Avery Johnson. This is about a group of people that have the same vision, that have great communication, and at the end of the day, when we leave the room, we all agree upon the same thing," he said. "This is a big day for University of Alabama basketball, not just for our game tonight (against Coastal Carolina), but with this 2017 class, and sure, wherever we're ranked, it's a number one class in my mind. So wherever we're ranked nationally, that's great, but this is a huge day for us because when Coach Battle decides to hire me for this job, we talked about putting a fence around Alabama. That's what we said in our introductory press conference. And we've done that. We've signed the top three players in the state of Alabama.

"And sure, all of our players have to come in and develop, and this class is going to be judged by their production on the floor. That's great, but we have to start somewhere. And all three of our kids from Alabama, we were very high on those kids in terms of their character, and in terms of the way they could be coacheable and compete on the floor. We also talked about trying to win the battle of some of the surrounding states. So in terms of having we think the top big man in the state of Mississippi, we believe we have the top guard in the state of Georgia. And combining all those efforts, that's how we've arrived at this 2017 class. We've also been very competitive in states that are not connected to Alabama and we believe that we came in second with another five-star player that decided to go to a Pac 12 school and we wish he and his family all the best, but he came here on an official visit all the way from Las Vegas and we were right there until the very end."
When Johnson first arrived in Tuscaloosa in April of 2015, some had questions about his ability to recruit on the college level, and about whether the former National Basketball Association coach would even enjoy the college recruiting process.
Johnson on Friday said again it is not so much about him as it is about the solid product that he and his staff are selling.
"When Coach Battle and I met, the idea was, not just about can I recruit, but what do we have to sell?" he said. "The main thing is we thought as a staff if we could get kids on campus, we have a lot to sell. This is a beautiful campus, there's not a piece of grass that's out of order here and we have the best landscaping department, academics, social life. Look at all our varsity sports and if you love sports this is the place to be. So, we have a lot to sell here. We travel first class, we have first-class facilities, we have, I think, a top-notch coaching staff to go along with my resume. So it wasn't so much whether I could recruit, (it was) how can we pull them together and have something to sell. And we think we have a lot of rich tradition here, and now a lot of our (former) players are coming back on campus, helping us talk about how maybe our recent history hasn't been that great, but we have a lot of players that have played in the NBA, and that's something that's been very positive. I'm hoping that this is going to send a message to our current study body here on campus that we're serious about this and that our administration is serious about basketball."

The following are facts about each of the Crimson Tide's five signees:

Jones, a 6-7, 185-pound guard/forward started for the varsity team at Sunshine High School as a ninth and 10th grader, playing under his father, Walter Jones, before transferring to Hale County High School to close out his final two years. Jones is ranked as the No. 17 shooting guard in the nation according to 247Sports.com, and he’s the No. 72 prospect in the country reported by Rivals.com. Capable of playing multiple positions, Hoopseen.com has Jones ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the state of Alabama, while he’s ranked as the top small forward in the state and the No. 8 small forward in the southern region according to Scout.com.
In 2015 – his final season at Sunshine – Jones led his team to the Alabama State High School Association (AHSAA) Class 1A state finals. A talented wing player, Jones saw the court on Sunshine’s varsity basketball team as early as the seventh grade and he became a consistent contributor to the varsity team as an eighth grader. Last season playing for Hale County, Jones averaged 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Jones is a two-time first-team all-state honoree according to the Sports Writers Association (ASWA), earning a spot on the 1A Honorable Mention All-State Team in 2015, followed by 3A second team all-state honors last season.
"Herb Jones, I know some people may have Herb Jones floating between a three and a four-star, but all of our players are five stars in my mind," said Johnson. "Herb Jones is a lanky 6-7 kid, and obviously he's got to put on some weight, but he can flat out play. He can shoot the ball, lefthanded, unorthodox, great passer, decision maker. We think he has a high ceiling."
Petty comes to Alabama as a consensus five star recruit and top-30 player in the nation. Petty played his first three years at J.O. Johnson High School under head coach Jack Doss, After the closing of J.O. Johnson, the 6-5, 180-pound forward will close out his prep career at Jemison High School in Huntsville, Ala. Petty, who was named 2016 Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama by the ASWA, is ranked as the top player from the state, while he is ranked the No. 3 shooting guard in the southern region and the top shooting guard in Alabama according to Scout.com. ESPN.com has Petty listed as No. 25 in their top-100 prospects list, No. 8 regionally and the No. 7 two-guard in the nation.
Last season, Petty averaged 19.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.8 steals per game while leading J.O. Johnson to a second consecutive 5A state championship in the program's final year. He was named to AL.com’s Super All-State Player of the Year, Gatorade Alabama Boys Basketball Player of the Year and Huntsville Region Player of the Year. In addition, Petty was tabbed the 5A state tournament most outstanding player and also earned a spot on the All-Huntsville Region Boys basketball team.
"John Petty, who I think last night had 35 points, five threes, he's capable of doing that every night," said Johnson. "6-6, strong body, can really handle the ball, underrated passer, tough. You're going to hear me say that a lot about our recruits. Great court vision, can shoot the three, can post up, solid free throw shooter, and all our big guys (in the signee group) are solid free throw shooters."
Reese, listed as a 6-9, 225 pound power forward, played at Pelham High School under the direction of head coach Joel Floyd. According to Scout.com, Reese was ranked No. 59 overall in the 2017 class, the No. 7 nationally at the power forward position and the top-ranked player in the region. ESPN.com has Reese ranked as the No. 3 prospect in the state of Alabama.
Last season, Reese earned first team all-state honors by the ASWA after he averaged 25.4 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game during his junior season. Reese, who earned a spot on the USA Basketball Junior National Team in 2015, was selected to AL.com’s first-team All-Birmingham list last year and was a finalist for the 6A Player of the Year following his junior season.
"Alex Reese, 6-10, 235-pounds, he has that big high ceiling in terms of being able to handle the ball as a big man and shoot threes, rebound," said Johnson. "Terrific post player. I've seen a guy like him before at the same age that I played with in the NBA so we're excited about him."
Sexton is a 6-2, 182 pound point guard who played his high school ball at Pebblebrook under head coach George Washington. The five-star athlete is a consensus top-10 player in the country and is ranked as high as No. 2 point guard prospect in the country and the No. 7 player nationally by 247Sports.com. Furthermore, Sexton ranks No. 9 in the nation according to Scout.com, while ESPN.com ranks him as the 10th-best player in the country. This past summer, Sexton starred for Team USA in the FIBA U17 Championships, leading the team to a Gold Medal at the event. As a result, he was named the FIBA Championship’s Most Valuable Player while leading the team in scoring and assists.
Sexton has proved to be an offensive threat, as he was the top scorer in the 2016 EYBL averaging 30.1 points per game. Last season, Sexton navigated his team to the state championship semifinals, as he averaged 28.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game. As a result, the Atlanta Journal Constitution selected him as a member of the 2016 All-State Class 6A first team, was named the Cobb County Player of the Year and as well as a member of the 2016 All-Cobb County first team.   
"Collin Sexton, he's a stud," said Johnson. "He has that Kyree Irving-type of a game. 6-2, good body, can do it all. Can shoot the three, he has a knack for getting to the free throw line, which I like. He shoots 88 percent from the free throw line and doesn't miss his free throws, and very competitive. All of our (signees) are very competitive on the defensive end."                                            
Smith, a 6-9, 220-pound center out Clinton, Miss., is a standout performer at Clinton High School under head coach and school athletic director Clay Norton. Smith is ranked as the top big man and the No. 2 overall player in the state of Mississippi, according to 247Sports.com. The same site also ranks Smith as the No. 22 center in the nation in the 2017 class.
Last season, Smith averaged 21.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.1 blocks and 1.5 assists per game on his way to earning first team all-state honors as a junior. He was selected to be on the 2016 North/South Basketball Boys All-Star Team for the state of Mississippi and also earned a spot on the 2016 “Dandy Dozen,” awarded to the top 12 high school players in Mississippi.
"Galin Smith, a high-energy big man, great hands," said Johnson. "We think he's going to probably put on 25 pounds, when (strength and conditioning coach) Lou Deneen finishes with him, but a tough, hard-nosed great rebounder. A terrific rebounder and finishes around the basket well with both his left and right hand."

Special thanks: Alabama Athletics Communications

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